Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Crossing into Gaza and First Impressions

Further notes from Terry's trip to Gaza; this one about crossing the border and first impressions:


So I'm in the hotel room now in Gaza after a fairly long day.  I'm pretty tired but wanted to take a shower and go down and get some food before going to bed.   
The ride [to Gaza] was interesting - heading south we went through more fertile landscape than the Tel Aviv/Jersulaem/West Bank rocky desert scene - in fact much of the trip down south through Israel proper reminded me of driving through Ohio or Iowa or something - very heartland looking from the road (Interstate quality), to the crops in the fields, to the small town infrastructure - just insert some palm trees and bougainvillea in rural Ohio (and write everything in Hebrew or Arabic) and you'd pretty much have the landscape we drove through.

...then we hit The Wall.  Talk about an experience.  So you basically are going through the Heartland, and suddenly "Whoomp" there's a big wall and checkpoint marking the border to the Gaza Strip.  It's a pretty serious crossing over exercise - you can't drive through - so the Taxi drops you off at Israeli side - you go through three separate Israeli checkpoints and four different turn-style gates - then you are walking across no man's land with the wall looming up behind you.  It's a pretty serious wall - maybe 30-40 feet high, razor wire and machine gun posts scattered across the top - it would be an Enver Hoxha [isolationist Albanian dictator] dream wall.

Walking across the No Man's land was quite the experience, I was on a covered cement walkway which was fenced in on both sides for a LOOOONG way.  The hot sun is beating down, the landscape is barren - except for razor wire and cement blockades - and I just walked and walked and walked.  Should have heard one of those hawk shrieks up in the sky that you get on movies to show the heroes have been walking for a really long time in the desert was probably about nearly a kilometer of walking to get to the end of the fence - just walking by myself away from the looming wall on this little concourse.  After I got out of the narrow fenced in walkway, then it was about another 500 meters on a beat-up sandy macadam road to the Palestinian side of the checkpoint.  I had to wait there until the WV security officer showed up, but he knew everyone and had the right documents and they were used to the WV crossovers (there are something like 50 iNGOs operating projects in Gaza so there are a fair number of foreigners that come over now and then).

The Palestine side was light years away from the Heartland.  Everything seriously sandy desert, decaying infrastructure - I saw a donkey cart go by the Palestine checkpoint while waiting and was thinking you wouldn't see that in the Heartland.  It sort of felt like going from the Heartland to an Indiana Jones movie.  The trip to the hotel on the Palestine side was pretty short - maybe 20 minutes - but the cityscape was one of those annoying ones that really felt familiar and reminded me of somewhere I'd been - but I couldn't name the place.  The hotel is right on the seaside (which would be cool if I was allowed to actually leave the hotel ever) and the drive along the coastal place really reminded me a lot of Somalia - but the plastic garbage litter really reminded me of Albania...and the Taj Mahal mosque just across the street from the hotel didn't really remind me of either.  So anyway, Gaza looks interesting.

And talk about a weird place to live - there's literally a 30 foot high cement razor wire wall with machine guns running the entire border of the Strip - no one is allowed in or out except with permits from BOTH the Israeli government AND Hamas (the current rulers of the Strip) - as you might imagine, there aren't a lot of people who get permission from both of those groups - although I did see a lot of people - maybe a few dozen - Palestinians coming through while I was hanging around the checkpoint, so I'm not sure what all the ins and outs are for moving back and forth - but let's say there's not really free movement.

Then, the Strip borders Egypt to the south and there are all these smuggling tunnels under that border which the Israelis more or less ignore unless the tunnels are used for weapons, then they collapse the tunnel - but all sort of goods and food are smuggled in - as well as people - I was told that there are five star tunnels that are lighted and you can drive a vehicle through, four star tunnels that are lighted with AC, three star tunnels with just lights, and so forth - so there's a bit of a system there.

Anyway - weird situation.  It will be interesting to learn more.  Oh, in addition - I'll be here for 10 days for the evaluation - the security officer here said that's the longest time he's ever heard of any foreigner staying here - he seemed kind of puzzled about what to do with me for that length of time since it's over a weekend - I think he was worried he'd need to baby sit me for the weekend... 

1 comment:

ben wideman said...

Exciting! I hope we get to hear more.