Egyptian authorities decided to open the Rafah border crossing for two days this weekend. Thousands of people showed up hoping to leave the besieged Gaza Strip.
Text and photos: Ezz Al Zanoon
RAFAH, Gaza Strip — Hundreds of cars standing still in long lines, full of passengers and luggage. That was the scene at the Rafah border crossing at 5:30 early Saturday morning. It was the first day of a rare two-day opening of the border for Palestinians in the besieged Gaza Strip — the result of a decision by Egyptian authorities.
The Egyptian border had been closed for months. The only other way out is through Israel, which issues permits mostly only for “humanitarian” cases.
Children’s cries and loud noises filled the Palestinian passenger hall, packed far beyond capacity. Thousands of people desperate to pass through into Egypt, their only gateway to the outside world.
Because of the packed masses of people, ambulances and medics were standing by around every corner. Dozens of unconscious people were evacuated throughout the day, most likely a result of the unbelievable crowd and the stress. Considering that such a high percentage of the travelers appeared to be elderly, between 50 and 70 years old, my guess is a good number were trying to travel for medical treatment.
Because of the limited number of buses, the Palestinian passengers tried to pack into the buses — as many people as would fit. “87 passengers on my 54-seat bus!” a friend of mine who managed to travel wrote me via SMS text message. “I can’t bear this crazy situation.”
The decision to open the border does not mean that it was open for all Gazan citizens to leave the Strip. Far from it. Thousands of urgent cases are registered with the Palestinian authorities on long lists: they have priority to travel. Injured people, medical patients, students, and people who have residency permits in foreign countries go first.
In recent years, thousands of people have been stuck in Gaza and have lost their jobs, educational opportunities and residency permits in other countries. Gaza is a crazy place! It’s unbearable. We have endured a tight blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt, ever since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. Since then, Gaza has became the biggest open-air prison in the world.
My problem is similar to everybody else’s problem. I’m a 24-year-old artist, an international award-winning photographer with a dream of traveling since 2010. Traveling is a basic human right, but that doesn’t apply where I come from, the Gaza Strip.
Due to the blockade, I have missed dozens of opportunities in Europe, America, and even in the West Bank and Jerusalem. I’ve participated in many photography exhibitions all over the world. It’s so funny that my pictures have traveled everywhere but I could not.
I have often been upset when international institutions expressed interest in my photographs and materials but were not interested in helping me get out of Gaza. That was insulting.
I covered three Israeli military offensives on Gaza, in 2008, 2012, and 2014, which have put me under heavy psychological pressure. I really need some time to get away from this horrible place, to rest, but that seems like an impossible dream.