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The Gaza Crossing

by Jennifer Loewenstein Thursday, Nov. 16, 2006 at 3:56 PM

Jennifer Loewenstein is a Visiting Research Fellow at Oxford University's Refugee Studies Centre. She has lived and worked in Gaza City, Beirut and Jerusalem and has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, where she has worked as a free-lance journalist and a human rights activist. She can be reached at: amadea311@earthlink.net

Alice in Erez

The Gaza Crossing

By JENNIFER LOEWENSTEIN

A clear and warm November evening; sun sets in a violence of color to the west over the sea and a full luminescent moon on the rise over Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip. As if on cue, the buzz of the pilot-less drones overhead begins as their nightly circling ritual gets underway. The taxi driver's hands grip the wheel of the car more intently as we speed along the winding road to Erez past the village huddled in the shadows a few hundred meters away to our right. At the Palestinian side, the driver gets out of the taxi, my passport in hand, and takes it into the shack of an office where a handful of scruffy, uniformed security figures are sitting. Darkness is creeping in from the East.

There is a problem, the driver explains to me in broken English. They won't let you through. On the other side of Erez where the gatekeepers sit in their park-rangers' office with the neon lights and the coffee-machine, my number isn't blinking approval on the computer. Or something like that. A furious volley of phone calls on my behalf commences ­ between the driver, friends in Gaza, PA security and the masters in Israel. Sorry, not coordinated. Sorry, it will take a while; sorry, you can't leave. Sorry, no. An American citizen in the Gaza Strip will stay with the prisoners for now because the keepers are not ready to let her out of the cage. Revenge for your audacity, I think. Live with the others since you like it so well; eat their dust and shower in their sewers. You wanted to go to Gaza, no?

Darkness covers half the sky and the drones sound hungry. The driver shouts into the phone to my friend, Khamsa Daqa'iq! Khamsa Daqa'iq! (Five minutes! Five minutes!) He'll wait only 5 more minutes, he says, before returning me to Gaza City ­ but I know better. He'll wait until his life is in danger trying to help me get out. And sure enough, it is 45 minutes later when he looks at me beseechingly and says we must return. The wardens are not cooperating. My number is not approved. Now it is night.

Drones can't tell a taxi from a car full of 'militants.' In the darkness on the road they won't know who we are-or at least it will make matters easier when the explanations for two dead civilians come in the next day, one of them an 'international'. It was dark, you see, and they were 'suspicious.' The suitcase might have been full of explosives. Therefore no investigation will be necessary. Therefore it was OK. Therefore it was our fault for being out. Therefore you should not go to Gaza. Is the message clear?

The trip back is a roller coaster ride with the wrong kind of thrills. Friends meet us on the curbside outside their home and we all tip the driver better than he'll ever get again in his lifetime. He is breathing again; an old man with white hair, looking apologetically into my eyes.

In the tall apartment building teeming with prisoner families of Gaza, friends call back and forth to Israel for me ­ in their Hebrew and English. The ghosts of Kafka and Lewis Carroll are hovering about us bemused and mocking: prisoners of the Gaza Strip trying to arrange the release of an American citizen. They all have to give the Israeli authorities their names. I finally take the phone to speak to the boss and, for the first time in the history of my excursions to this god-forsaken land, an Israeli apologizes.

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