There Has to Be a Just Solution
Othman, Deanna, Islamic Horizons
The Gazans' nightmare existence continues, as the world once again turns away. BY DEANNA OTHMAN
When I told people that my family was going to Gaza this past summer, reactions ranged from envy to disbelief. Some people longed to visit this elusive yet admired society; others believed we must be out of our minds to subject ourselves and our three children to such a perilous and uncertain journey. We might as well have said we were blasting off into outer space. Realizing the potential difficulties (e.g., we might be turned away at the border) and dangers, we decided to risk it because my husband had not seen his family for almost eleven years. He was returning to his home; I was venturing into unknown territory.
Gaza is one of the most politically and materially isolated places on earth. Physically small and densely populated, it is located dangerously close to its occupier; yet within its confines people are safe. Strangled by the Israeli-imposed siege (Operation Cast Lead), its marketplaces neverdieless buzz with activity and its demolished buildings are filled with life. Its people are called "terrorists," although they are the ones who have been terrorized. In Gaza, one witnesses what is perhaps humanity's most jarring paradox - evidence of man's capacity to destroy and the indestructibility of the human spirit.
As soon as we entered the airport in Cairo, I realized that our journey had only just begun. Having traveled abroad only to Canada, I saw how truly American I am. After loading our twelve suitcases onto a cart, we walked through the airport to find the appropriate place to have our passports stamped. Dozens of old women who must have been in their 70s began ramming us with their carts, pushing us out of the way. I felt a litde like Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz." We certainly were not in Kansas anymore.
After a six-hour taxi ride primarily through the Sinai Desert, a land of blistering heat, without air-conditioning or any stops for food or water, I tried to imagine what we would encounter at the border crossing. Being an American citizen does not guarantee entry into Gaza, even after obtaining a letter from the American embassy in Cairo saying I was travelling there at my own risk. The Egyptian authorities may allow or deny entry, according to the American consulate, "based on the attitude of the guy who happens to be there that day." Being used to rules, laws, and regulations, such a fickle approach to regulating a tense situation did not strike me as wise or fair. But as we pulled up to the border - exhausted, hot, parched, and hungry - only to be informed that they had closed the crossing for the day, I realized just how true the consulate's words had been, for there were no posted hours. After being told to return the next day at 9:00 a.m., we found a place to sleep, unloaded our luggage, and hired a driver to take us back to the border crossing the next morning. We presented ourselves again at the specified time; however, the Egyptian soldier told us they would open the gate after prayer, since it was Friday. We waited in Une on the black gravel lot and in the sweltering heat for eight grueling hours; eight hours without chairs, water, or food.
We stood with other families longing to visit loved ones they had not seen for years and waited with Gazans who were carrying back home much-needed washing machines, refrigerators, bicycles, and televisions. We held our crying babies, comforted young children, and marveled at the chaos unfolding before our eyes as people resorted to bribery, fist-fights and curses to speed up the line that was arbitrarily held up by guards who were not yet quite in the mood to allow people to cross. As we lingered for what seemed like an eternity, we spoke with a family who had come from Germany. The man, whom my husband quickly recognized, used to harvest corn with him during his teenage years. After seventeen years abroad, he was returning to visit his family. …