Well, here we are, still in Lebanon…nearly two months after attempting to get into Gaza.
I tried, and failed, to get an Egyptian visa from here. So I am slowly facing the fact that I will not be able to return to Gaza, at least not now.
I have torn off my limbs at the final frontier, but there is no passage for the stateless. Where do you reside when you do not exist?
Identity and citizenship remain abstract, tightly bound concepts that we carry in a small satchel around our necks, ready to present and explain in dizzying detail at a moment’s notice, or ready to be hung by equally as fast:
Where are you from? What do you mean? What answer do you want to hear? Don't let my accent fool you! or my scarf!
Citizenship, then: I leave this blank empty, for here I do not exist
National of: Palestinian Authority (an authority over ?)
So then you cannot enter… (this changes based on the political climate)
Parents place of Birth: Gaza City.
My place of birth: Kuwait, (but wait…there’s more. I lived there for just one year; then Saudi Arabia, then Bahrain)
Place of permanent residence: Gaza, with a footnote (a residence I cannot reach, a permanence that is illusory; does this still count? Did I pass the test?)
Husband’s nationality: Palestinian refugee residing in Lebanon (but not since 1993); but NOT Palestinian Authority- this honor is reserved to those with hawias, identity cards (the better to track you with my dear); he has never been to Palestine (only smelled and touched it through an intermediary; does this count?)
My father goes to the Ministry of Civil Affairs maybe once a week. Here, Palestinian passengers register to leave Gaza through Rafah. But the wait is anywhere from 2-4 months or more. He registered nearly 1.5 months ago, but is in no immediate rush to leave. Nevertheless, he goes to check on his status anyway. He wants to come visit my brothers and I in the United States (when I return) since I cannot make it to Gaza.
The Ministry updates travelers on the status of their request via web. This is perhaps the only convenient and “modern” aspect of the entire process. When the Egyptians announce the border will open, a few days beforehand, a list of “lucky names” appears on the ministry’s website.
You are assigned a bus number. My father’s is 66, but it has yet to appear. During the last opening, they made it to bus 20.
“What does that mean?” I ask of the curious numbers. “Are you at least guaranteed passage eventually?” Rafah’s onerous procedures change almost yearly, and it’s hard to keep track.
“It simply means you have a seat on a bus from Gaza to the border. The rest is up to the Egyptians. Maybe 40% of people are turned back” he explains.
Most travelers go to the Ministry in person anyway, like my father, some on an almost daily basis. The last time my father went-a few days ago, he described the heart wrenching scenes to me:
There was the newly wed, separated from her husband; the newly engaged, separated from her fiancé for over a year; and then there were those who were simply bawling and begging: for some small miracle; to someone who had no “authority” over anything in the end of the day; to somehow clear the brackets of all the unknowns and get right to the source of the equation; to make things work.
In Gaza, life is interrupted on an hourly basis, in an infinite number of ways.
The most mundane of them are often the cruelest. They go unnoticed.