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Don't believe what you read in the press

Yesterday lunchtime my friend, Ali, called me from Gaza. ‘Hey, where are you – we’re waiting for you. They opened Erez today and now Gaza is full of foreigners!’

‘Ali, I can’t come to Gaza right now,’ I said, guiltily. ‘My family is arriving in Al Quds (Jerusalem) on Sunday, and I can’t risk being stuck inside Gaza when they get here.’

After 34 days of complete closure, the Israeli military ‘partially reopened’ the Erez border crossing into Gaza on 9 December. What that actually means is that the Israeli military allowed an unspecified number of heavily vetted internationals, including some journalists, to enter the Gaza Strip via Erez. But with one or two possible exceptions, the only Palestinians who were permitted to leave the Strip yesterday were a handful of patients who need urgent medical treatment that, thanks to the Israeli siege and closure, is completely unavailable in Gaza.    

In the run-up to this week’s festival of Eid al-Adha, people across the West Bank and East Jerusalem shopped until they drooped. The streets of Ramallah were festooned with brightly coloured lights, and packed with families buying presents and new clothes, cakes and sweets and treats. Just 75 kilometres away, people inside Gaza searched unlit stores for gifts: but many people could not even afford to shop. Israel refused to allow consignments of the local currency, the shekel, to be transferred to banks in Gaza, and the banks were forced to close last week because they literally ran out of money.

People have been calling me from Gaza every day. Some of my friends tell me their families have been forced to cook outside on open fires because they have no gas left for their stoves. ‘We know all about closure and siege,’ one of my female friends, Zekra, said wearily over the phone. ‘But this time it is really hard – you have to see our situation to believe it.’ She told me there were no fruits or vegetables in the local market, and she and her mother were baking bread over an open fire in their yard.

If Israel does reopen the border crossings, then life will immediately improve inside Gaza. But the only people who know whether the current closure is now over, are the Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak and his acolytes, including the new Commander of the IDF Gaza Brigade, General Eyal Einsenberg. Between them, these men will decide whether internationals can enter and leave Gaza, and whether food stocks, including humanitarian aid and medicine, will now cross the border on a regular basis. During this 34-day closure, an average of less than 5 truckloads of supplies was allowed to cross into Gaza per day, compared to an average of 123 truckloads per day in October.   

I feel very sad not to be able to visit my friends inside Gaza for another couple of weeks. But living in Gaza has taught me that I am not fully in control of my own movements: everyone who lives and works in Gaza is either locked in or out, and having been locked out for weeks I can’t risk being locked inside right now. 

Whatever you read about Gaza in the press in the coming days, Erez border crossing will not open – not for the Palestinians inside Gaza. More than 95 per cent of Palestinians inside the Strip are not permitted to enter or leave Gaza via Erez, so the words ‘open’ and ‘closure’ are mere semantics for them. Around 400 students who were accepted on degree courses at foreign universities in the summer still cannot exit Gaza via Erez to begin their studies. This current closure may be at an end for now, but the siege of Gaza goes on, and with it the uncertainties that wrack everyone imprisoned inside the Strip.

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