Thursday, November 23, 2006

The politics of uncertainty

It’s our third day in Al-Arish, and still, no word about the border. Everyone is suddenly a credible source on when the border will open, and anxious ears listen to whatever they dish out.

One local jeweller insisted it would open at 4pm yesterday-a suggestion that the taxi drivers laughed off; they placed their bets on Thursday -but Thursday has come and gone, and still no sign of the border opening; the woman staying in the flat next to us-a Syrian-Palestinian bussinesswoman also waiting to enter Gaza, says she has "credible information" it will open in a matter of "days". Atyiya, our taxi driver, say HE heard it wouldn't open until the Muslim pilgrimage (Hajj), a few weeks from now. A border official we call every morning at 5am says only the Israelis know for sure.

How is it that when waiting for passage through borders, time is suspended, yet somehow, the rest of the world goes on living? How is it that all sense of time and belonging and life come to a standstill here I cannot understand.

We’ve packed and unpacked our bags a dozen times. My mother finally gave in and opened hers up in a gesture of frustration-and maybe, pragmatism. It seems like a bad omen, but sometimes things work in reverse here: last time we were stuck for 55 days in Egypt, the day we decided to buy more than a daily portion of food, the border opened.

But every night, it’s the same ritual. We pack all our things, sleep early, and wake up at 5 to call the border.

As an Israeli friend put it, "uncertainty" is used as part of the almost endless repertoire of occupation.

In the end, security is all that matters and all that ever will. As Palestinians, we’ve come to despide that word: Security. It is has become a diety more sacred than life itself.

It used to be that anyone with an Israeli-issued travel permit or visa could cross Rafah into Gaza-but never refugees of course. Since the Disengagement last year, all that has changed.

With few exceptions (diplomats, government delegations, UN staff, Red Cross, press with Israeli issued cards) no one besides residents of Gaza carrying Israeli-issued IDs can come in. No foreigners, no Arabs, no West Bankers, not even spouses of Gazan residents, or Palestinian refugees, can enter Gaza now.

Our identity has come to be defined by restrictions and borders and permits and limits. That is the nature of the Occupation. “If you are from Gaza, you cannot travel to the West Bank; you cannot travel to Jerusalem; you cannot use Allenby, il-Jisr, or Erez, or any of the airports. You cannot obtain travel permits for your or your spouse. Nor family reunification. You cannot obtain identity cards. You cannot fly, you cannot fish, you cannot move, you cannot breathe, you cannot live.” If you meet all these cannots, then you know you are from Gaza.

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