Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Humanity lost

We stood and we waited and we cried and we returned back to Egypt yesterday, and again today. Us and thousands of others.

It was anguish. Anguish and misery and desperation personfied in every woman, man and child.

One hour turned into two, then three, then five, as we stood shielding our eyes from the piercing midday sun on Wednesday, when we were told the Crossing would be opening for a few hours.

Some wailed in exhaustion, others fainted, still others cracked dry humor, trying to pass the time. We stood, thousands of us, packed together elbow to elbow like cattle, penned in between steel barriers on one end, and riot-geared Egyptian security guards on the perimeter, who were given orders not to allow anyone through until they hear otherwise from the Israelis-and to respond with force if anyone dared.

Many of the people had been waiting for more than two weeks to cross back into Gaza, sometimes making the trip to the crossing several times a day upon receiving word of its imminent opening.

"We have been waiting for 15 days now. Only god knows when it will open-today, tomorrow, the day after?" said 57-year-old Abu Yousuf Barghut, his shrapnel-riddled arm trembling by his side.

His tearful wife, Aisha, added: "God knows we only went to seek treatment for him and to come right back. And now we are stuck and waiting us in Gaza are my four children. This is the most basic of rights-to be able to return to our homes, and we are even denied that."

"The only way anyone will actually pay attention to our plight is if one of us dies here, and even then, I'm not sure the world will care," stammered one young man, Isam Shaksu, his eye heavily bandaged after having received an corneal implantation in Jordan.

In July, seven Palestinians waiting to be let into Gaza from Egypt died waiting to cross Rafah.

After the hours and the sun, one would have thought the black steel gates ahead of us were the gates to Heaven, but in fact they only led to more masses, more waiting, more hell.

There is something you feel as you stand there, and sometimes squatted, for hours at a time, waiting to be let through the Egyptian side of Rafah Crossing. It is something of your humanity slowing drifting away. It is gradual, but unmistakable.

And you are never quite the same again.

There were mixed Israeli orders-first to open the crossing for three days, starting Wedneday, yesterday; then breaking news at 11pm retracted that order, and by Wednesday morning, another about-face saying that the border would in fact be opened. By the time we arrived, it was 11am, and already somewhere around 2000 has amassed in front of the gates. And no one was budging.

Yousuf waited along with us, asking incessantly "When would the crossing open??", and begging me to pose the same quetion to the Egyptian officers manning it. Everytime he'd see the gate budge open he would get excited and yell "Its open!! Its open!!". And everyone would heave a heavy sigh.

When we finally did make it inside the “Second sector” of the Egyptian side, the relief was overwhelming-we had moved 50 metres!! And we could wait another four hours if it meant we’d finally be allowed through. But instead we faced yet another uncertain wait; it was like some sadistic game with no certain ending.

As we waited, we saw members of the Palestinian athletic teams heading to the Asian games after a two week delay.

We also saw Ismail Haniya on his way out to his Arab tour. He stopped to mingle with the desperate crowds, some hailing him, some complaining about how long they had waited.

We finally learned that the crossing had been closed this entire time, and the Egyptians were only allowing people through to give them some hope to cling on to-and to prevent the masses from rioting, which has happened before.

We thought once he’d passed, we’d be allowed through. But it is then we learned that Mahmud Zahar had crossed earlier that morning-carrying suitcases full of $20 million.

The European Monitors were not pleased. How could he not declare the money, and how could he have the audacity to try and bring in money to feed his peole in the first place??

They filed a "complaint" with the Israelis, who immediately told them to shut down the crossing, without giving a reason, leaving thousands-including Yousuf, my parents and I, stranded.

My mother and Yousuf had gone ahead of my father and I-and our bags-into the terminal, and Yousuf fell asleep in the mosque. It was then that the officers had informed us the crossing was no longer operational-and everyone who was inside, even those who had already made it as far as the Palestinian side, would have to go back.

we pleaded with an Egyptian Officer: “It took us 6 hours to get as far the inside of the terminal, please let us through”.

“Big deal-it took me ten hours to get here from Cairo," he retorted, as I reminded myself they get paid a measly 180 Egyptian pounds a month and couldn't care less.

Another officer was more sympathetic.

“What you lot have to understand is that no one gives a damn what happens to you-you could sit here and suffocate for all they care. You are simply not human enough for them to care.”

When is it that we lost our humanity, I wondered? And when is it that the humanity and desperation of a people, waiting desperately to be let through to their homes, was less important than the call of duty? And that a government was made to choose between feeding their own people, or giving them passage to their homes?

Inside the terminal, the scenes were dizzying. Already disoriented form lack of sleep and little food, I looked around in awe. It was nothing short of an interment camp, and I lost myself somewhere between the silent anguish of old men, aching, teary eyed-women on the verge of collapse, and children, some strewn across the floor in exhaustion, others who were sick, in wheelchairs, wailing...

We returned to Arish, exhausted and sleep deprived, only to find that all of the apartments were occupied by returning passengers. The only flat we found was one without hot water and leaky ceiling pipes, but we couldn’t care less. By 9pm we were all out.

The next morning, we left again to the border-where we had left our suitcases-despite word from taxi drivers that the crossing would not open. We waited again, this time for only 5 hours, until we decided it was an exercise in futility.

Everyone was looking for answers-some answers, any answers. When would the crossing open? Was there hope it would open today? If so, what time? Should we wait, should we return to Arish? Nobody knew.

Every now and then someone would make a call to some secondary source they knew in Gaza or on the border, and rumors would spread like wildfire across the masses. “At noon-they say at noon there is a possibility it will open! Patience, patience!”.

And then we wait some more.

One man, frustrated, took his bags and began to push them back on a trolley and out through the throngs of exhausted passengers.

"Where the hell do you think you're going??" bellowed one of the Egyptian officers.

"To Jerusalem! Where do you think??" he snapped.

It was nearing the end of our long day, and overcome by exhaustion, we didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

A friend in the UN told me the Europeans had left their posts after yesterday’s “incidents” and thus the Palestinian side of the crossing has shut down indefinitely now.

And so now, we return to square one. Back in Arish, waiting, as ever, for the border to open.


Blogger الفلسطينية said...

this is so terrible.....i dont know if i'm more mad at that incredibly rude egyptian police officer, israeli policy, or at the entire situation itself. its horrifying- if its any consolation, know that we are thinking of you/praying for you over here.

7:30 PM  
Blogger الفلسطينية said...

ok, i felt that my prayers and thoughts were not enough. so i've written a letter to congress....and though i'm not very optimistic i figured id give it a try. ive posted it on my blog...should be sending it out by tonite inshallah.

stay safe.

7:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stop the Kassams.

9:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

go back to khazaria and stop stealing land and killing babys!

10:53 PM  
Blogger Sam said...

Laila, I feal you... I've been in your situation 2 times out of the 3 times I visited Gaza between year 2000 and now! in addition to what you suffered, still you can go and stay in Arish, I and my friends and other hundreds of young males have to stay inside the Egyptian passengers hall for days and sometimes weeks (no good food, no showers, nothing to sleep and all what you already know there.. but people here may be don't know how this hall looks like! may be you have some pictures of the benches there that were our beds! or those lousy ceiling fans that rotates in speeds of 5 rpm maximum in the summers were temperatures pass 35C.. Anyways, Inshallah you'll be able to pass to Gaza soon!. Stay safe!.

12:29 AM  
Blogger Anne Rettenberg LCSW said...

It makes you wonder why Hosni Mubarak hasn't been assassinated yet...seems overdue.

4:30 AM  
Blogger Heba said...

laila I was in your situation 3 years ago and I do not know what to say I am speechless...I am sooooooo anguished and distressed ..Yousef is just like Saba daughter and i can imagine what it feels like to be in such a situation with is so inhumane...laila be strong because we Palestinians have nothing else to depend on, other than our strength .Heba

9:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Lilya
This is the tax of being a Palestinian . Nothing to say just take care of yosef and your self and try to think of your next trip out of Gaza .

9:44 AM  
Blogger Laila said...

you are ABSOLUTELY right, and I mentiond that somewhere in my other posts-about the facxt that Palestinian males are restricted to either the airport or the direct vicinity of the crossing, after their passports are confiscated (unless you have some major wasta). Now its not summer, so at least we can be thanksful for that; at night many people took to sleeping in the streets of Egyptian Rafah because the Egyptians wouldn't allow them to sleep inside the terminal.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your blog from France, and I must say I feel very sad for you, your boy and your mother. It seems so unfair for us Europeans who are so lucky ! I don't know if it is of any relief to you, but your blog helps me to realize how distressed you people from Gaza must be, and I talk a lot around me of your situation so that French people don't forget the kind of pain you are suffering. I must admit that we don't hear at all about your situation in the newspaper or on TV. It's such a shame !

Keep up the good work, have courage and stay safe.


5:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that's terrible what your leaders do to squander your rightful money away.

2:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope you and your family can return home soon and that in the meantime you are well. I find it so difficult to understand how the Israelis can on the one hand remind us that the Jewish people will "never again" allow themselves to be treated as they were by the Nazis, yet here they are talking the first steps on that road by de-humanizing the Palestinian people. It is an outrage that those who should know better choose to act this way.

As' Salaam aly' kum

4:13 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

Came across this blog when reading Al Jazeera which is fast becoming my favourite online news website. Can't get the tv where I'm from.

Ever since I've been back from Australia (and having participated an anti- war against Israel invading Lebanon), my interest in Middle Eastern politics have increased greatly. Ever since then, I have tried to read up on the situation over there.

It is really upsetting to read about such stories. And how the Israel and American government is constantly justifying what it is doing to Palestinians and the Middle East. Totally Hypocritical and shameful.

I will try to encourage everyone I know to read this blog. And keep your spirits up. They cannot keep up this oppression forever.


4:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

now here is a shocker!!

UN: Israel breaks border agreement

5:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Because you were stranded at the border crossing, perhaps you did not have the opportunity to read this response to your missives in ynetnews (or maybe you just wont read "Zionist controlled media"),7340,L-3333178,00.html

As the author suggests, perhaps you should recognize that this problem is largely of the Palestinian's making. But I doubt that you have the ability to look inward or do anything other than blame the for your plight.

What really concerns me is Yousef. He seems like such a nice boy. Yet he is being inculcated with hate by a bigoted mother who can't teach him the first thing about responsibility. I shudder to think of the inevitable tragic results.

4:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

no actually the palestinians didn't have any problems before the zionist moved in, stole land and killed babies

but being jooish and chosen means never having to say you are sorry

5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To the poster who commented at 4:34 pm, yours is the only bigotry and hatred we see, not Laila's. It is you who should do some soul searching and stop projecting your own culpability into others. The world is waking up to militant Zionist apartheid lies.

6:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

may Allah grant the palestinians the patience they need to surviv this horror----you are in our prayers.

6:41 PM  
Blogger Snorkle said...


I learned of your plight from Mohammed Omer who, as you may know, is currently on a speaking tour of the United States. I saw Mohammed speak in Washington on Tuesday and interviewed him by phone, yesterday, which is when he told me of your situation, and his fear that he might not be able to go home, either. I am currently transcribing the interview, which will be published on Monday. I will also make sure that it gets emailed and circulated in the U.S. Congress.

I am ashamed that my country is aiding and abetting the horrible treatment accorded to Palestinians by the Israeli government, and I hope the recent U.S. election results in putting a brighter spotlight on that conflict.

Carl Osgood
Executive Intelligence Review
Washington, D.C.

7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

as Patrick ,of Haifa,Israel wrote on YNET talkbacks:(11.28.06) :"I read Laila's article yesterday and... well.. I would like to say that I was amazed at the one sidedness of it.. but I wasn't surprised, only disappointed.

I live in Israel although I'm not an Israeli. I speak with Israeli's and I'm surrounded with the culture here. I can assure Laila that nobody here is having a laugh at her plight, we just want to live here without threat of death, that's all.

She must understand that the border is closed because of arms smuggling, she simple chooses to ignore this in her article/blog. I guess she thinks it'll make Israel look bad and that's all she wants. Actually it makes her look silly and untrustworthy. Seriously, the Palestinians HAVE to look within and accept their part in the situation in which they find themselves in.

Like the leaders of their factions today saying that the cease fire was declared only because they need some time to rearm and to get ready for another attack on the 'enemy' who's right to exist they will never acknowledge.

Seriously Laila, what do you expect Israel and Israeli's to think and to do when they read that?

Israeli's want to live here peacefully... it's a real shame that the Palestinians seem no to want to. ",7340,L-3333178,00.html

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anon the problem with you and the rest of the zionist is that you just want to steal more land and humiliate and kill more palestinians IN PEACE!!!

we do problem is that you are the were a problem where you came from or they would not have moved you out and you are the problem in the ME and you will be the problem where ever you go

just get out and keep going

9:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sorry Laila. Reading this sickened me and made me ashamed to be a part of the world that considers itself democratic ... because I come from the right country, with a passport that sets me free, I've never experienced the inhuman treatment you and your people suffer. I don't know how to fight for you from my safe place in the world but I'll do what I can and pass on your writings again and again.

Stay strong and keep writing. Your voice is so very very powerful.

1:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its a sign that your message is making an impact when it is targeted by those supporters of Israel who choose to pathetically blame the victim rather than acknowledge that Palestinian suffering, dispossession and humiliation is a direct result of Israel's wicked policies.

As so many others say, keep writing and keep informing...

1:34 AM  
Blogger supergirlest said...

laila - i'm speechless. this is all just horrible. i can't even imagine.

it is difficult here in the states to get any real idea of what is happening in palestine, and takes tremendous effort to wade through the propaganda pushed by the u.s./ israeli machine.

thank you for being a source of much needed information! i'm sending you all of my best. i only wish that i could do more to help. i'am passing this along...

1:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

allah i2aweekom, leila.
dana from queen's at kingston.

6:03 AM  
Blogger Nakia said...

The Exodus from Egypt is starting to seem like a non-stop flight compared to your plight, hon.
You, Yousuf, and your parents are in my du'a. And I voted for you in the Brass Crescent Awards. *mwah*

7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...remember that any man who denies justice to someone he hates prepares the way for a denial of justice to someone he loves." - Wendell Wilkie

Those words were true in 1940 and are true now. For those of you who feel that any amount of suffering incurred by the Palestinian people is fine so long as it ensures "safety" for Israel, you quickly forget how the "Jewish Threat" was handled in Europe. How good people looked the other way and how dealing with this "threat" became one of humanities' more shameful events.

How difficult would it be to pen the border crossing and allow people without weapons to cross? Arguing that the border crossings must be kept closed to prevent smuggling is ridiculous. Is that not what customs checkpoints around the world do on a daily basis?

As I read and learn more I become more ashamed that my country has "partners" that so willing deem the rights of others to be important.


5:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

correction to my note above - the last sentence should read " willingly deem the rights of others to be unimportant."

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

..dear lady...i just hope that you do not send your beautiful little boy to suicide bomber camp..wake up..until you shut down your crazzies,there will never be peace

12:10 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello laila. my name is yfat and I translated your article into hebrew for I wish we could speak

11:31 PM  

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