Despite the long coastline and the existence of seven crossings between its territory and Israel and Egypt, the Gaza Strip remains cocooned in a zone of isolation due to its neighbors’ punitive restrictions. Ships are not allowed by Israel to enter or leave, the lone airport was bombed in 2000, and no one may visit or exit by land without obtaining rarely given permission from the two countries’ military authorities.
Six of the land crossings are under Israeli control, with just one (Erez) open for human traffic. It is open most days, but permission to exit is granted in very limited cases (primarily medical emergencies and students traveling to study who have government sponsors willing to intercede for them). The other one is run by Egypt, which is open so sporadically that an estimated 30,000 Palestinians are now on the waiting list to exit via this route. Since, the beginning of the year, it has opened only twice—with the last time limited to those wanting to make the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. Anyone without a student visa or a certificate testifying to a medical emergency (and even sometimes them) often must pay a bribe of $3,000 or more to the Egyptian authorities to get out.
Thus, for Palestinians, trying to travel is arduous, slow and humiliating. But necessity knows no law, and we keep trying. Why? It’s about living with dignity and in peace. It’s about freedom. It’s about the health of our loved ones, uniting our families, studying for advanced degrees not available inside Gaza. There are multiple reasons why we insist on trying to travel, but the same ultimate goal.
Here are two of the hundreds of stories:
Love doesn’t always find a way
Noor is 25 years old and had never thought she might need to travel outside of Gaza. She knew that traveling was one of the most complicated challenges in the Gaza Strip.
"When I fell in love with an Egyptian man I met on Facebook, we knew marriage would be hard, but our love is stronger than anything,” says Noor.
The first barrier was the law, in both Egypt and Gaza. Noor’s request to leave Gaza would not be considered serious enough to be granted unless she already was married and was seeking to join her husband. That meant the marriage had to be legalized in Gaza. However, Gazan government law requires the bride’s father or one of her brothers to be present. Noor’s father had died long ago, and her brothers now live out of the Strip. It took two weeks to obtain an “affidavit” from her eldest brother, stating he gave his permission for her to marry an Egyptian man.
Finally, after two months of maneuvering, they were officially married. However, she faced a difficult choice: Celebrate with her family, but without her husband, or have her wedding party in Egypt, without her mother. It was a tough choice; how can a wedding party be the same without the mother of the bride? But since most of her family already lived outside of Gaza, she has chosen to celebrate with her new family in Egypt.
The next challenge will be crossing into Egypt.
“In March, I registered my name with the Gaza authorities so that I could join my new husband as soon as the Rafah crossing into Egypt opens,” says Noor. “But unfortunately, the border hasn’t opened since then. Every day, I follow the news, and each time I hear it might open, the news proves to be false. On the 19th of June, it was announced the border would finally open. I was so happy! I packed my bags, including the gifts I bought in Gaza for my new family. The next day the Egyptian authorities announced the crossing wouldn’t open because of the terrorist attacks in the Sinai."
Today, Noor still waits, her bags packed. When I visited her the other day, all she could do was weep.
A family divided
Sajedah hasn't seen her children since 2010. Here two sons tried to get a visa for her to travel to Switzerland or Sweden where they live, but were refused. A daughter lives in Norway, but none of her children can return to Gaza because of the uncertainty of the crossings—whether to let them in or out again.
"Many events have taken place during these past seven years that were milestones in our family, I couldn't even participate in any of them,” Sajedah says. “What hurts me most is that I couldn't travel to attend my daughter’s wedding party or be with her when she had surgery. Plus, I have a grandson, who is now 3 years old, and I haven't been able to see and touch him.”
An alternative to a European visa would be to meet her children and grandson in Egypt. But she waits in vain for the Rafah crossing to open and for her name to appear on the list. She can’t afford a bribe—or, for that matter, the uncertainty of whether the crossing would open again so she could return to the kindergarten she runs in Gaza.
“Will we ever be able to be together again as family?” she wonders.
Banner image credit: Hosam Salim via We Are Not Numbers