Sunday, December 10, 2006

There is method in this madness...

So we’re back and I think I’m only now beginning to recover from what I call the “Rafah Crossing Hangover”. You feel fine at first and once you finally get home and set your bags down you think “hey that wasn’t so bad!” Then, around 6pm, it hits you like a sack of rice. First your back gives way, and it feels like a truck ran it over. Then you begin to lose sensation in your legs as they go numb. Disorientation.,. and soon, collapse!

By 8pm we were all out cold and woke up the next day not knowing where I am and with a headache no amount of coffee could fix. Yousuf woke up and walked to the door leading to our balcony instead of the house-not realizing where he was either. It took us a few days to finally regain consciousness.

The Border itself was a picture of agony. Because of the sheer numbers of people waiting to cross, the Egyptians had sectioned off the crowds via several roadblocks. Our final goal of making it into Gaza seemed formidable at 7am, as we arrived and saw thousands upon thousands of passengers trying to get through in any way possible.

When my parents realized they wouldn’t be crossing anytime soon-with a donkey cart full of luggage behind them-Yousuf and I went ahead with only our passports and my backpack, only to find about 5000 people amassed in front of the Egyptian gate awaiting entry.

Only a few were being allowed in at a time, because ultimately the buses that were sent off in to the Palestinian side can accommodate about 80 people-procedure passed down from the Israelis

As we reached the outside of the gate, all I saw in front of me was people climbing on top of each other, looping their bags around and through the crowds to try and make it to the front. Simply making it TO that gate was a task. It was every person for themselves. In the chaos, one woman forgot her daughter, about Yousuf’s age, and I picked her up lest she be crushed under the thousands of legs.

A few hours later, I made contact with my parents-they had miraculously made their way to the front-while I remained in the back. With a lot of yelling and jostling, I managed to wind my way through the crowds to join them, and of course there was more waiting ahead. By the time we finally made it to the Palestinian side, it was about 1pm. We waited in the infamous “bus” for the Israelis to give the approval for us to pass-apparently the video monitoring extends to the outside of the terminal as well.

Blue-bereted EU monitors watched intently. I looked around at the faces of each of the people on our bus, including a man who had metal rods in his leg after his fifth leg operation in 3 years. I couldn’t’ help but think how no one will realize what every one of these people have been through…just to return to their homes.

The crossings closed shortly after we made it across, and thousands remain stranded behind us. I looked back, feeling for one second I had abandoned them, not knowing what more I could do.
I keep getting asked how it feels to be back. My first impression was feeling as if I was sucked into a black hole or vaccum. Very eerie going into a place that has methodically been turned into one of the world’s most isolated. You feel sort of distant and displaced and unsettled. And of course, there is a mixture of exhilaration and relief and uncertainty.

But you also feel accomplished, as though by merely being able to cross you have exercised a act of awesome proportions-defying the far-reaching grip of the occupation in the even the remotest and seemingly insignificant of ways.

I think the most disturbing and overwhelming feeling of all is having to come to grips with the realization that your life-and how you live that life-continues to be controlled wholly and absolutely by an Occupier, and that their ability to deny you entry to your own home so abruptly, so arbitrarily, and yet so methodically largely to the acquiescence and complicity of the world has become accepted.


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