Back to Gaza

on 18 Comments

I arrived in Gaza on Thursday. This the first time I’ve been back to any corner of Palestine since I was deported by Israel in January.

It took a week of paperwork and waiting in Cairo to get approval from Egypt to enter Gaza. After obtaining the permit, I met up with Kristen Chick, the Cairo correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and together we hired a driver to take us to Rafah at one in the morning on Thursday. We raced across the Sinai in a taxi that appeared to be held together with scotch tape.

Arriving at the crossing around 6:30 AM, we were among the first to enter the terminal when it opened at 9, alongside a hundred or so Palestinians, many of them carting huge piles of luggage. One woman brought a refrigerator in a box. Another, brass-colored curtain rods.

At the border I was smiling to hear Palestinian Arabic, which I can understand better than the Egyptian dialect. I remarked to Kristen about the impressive cultural unity of the Palestinian people. Despite the separation imposed by Israel between the populations of the West Bank, Gaza, Palestinians inside Israel, and the vast refugee/diaspora populations elsewhere, roughly the same Arabic is spoken by all of them, and, I think, the same national consciousness. Palestinians waiting at the border ask me, “So, you’re going to Palestine?,” instead of reducing it to the particularity of “So you’re going to Gaza?”

Adel, friendly employee of the Egyptian Ministry of Information, guided us through the process of crossing the border, liaising with the mukhabarat who control the border. (Overall, crossing was much easier than my first visit to Gaza one year ago, when I joined the Rachel Corrie Foundation’s delegation. Last year we waited for two days at the border before being allowed in.)

By noon on Thursday we were standing in the parking lot on the Palestinian side of the crossing. I had forgotten that one of the first sights you see when you enter Gaza is an abandoned white building that is so riddled with bullet holes that it has altered the shape of the building – it’s no longer square, the edges are rounded off.

We shared a taxi to Gaza City with the curtain rods lady, who is apparently from one of the wealthier Gaza families. She asked me if it was my first time in Gaza and then remarked, “The foreigners always arrive when there’s war.” My guess was this was a reference to the International Solidarity Movement activists, like Rachel Corrie, who have been trying for years to use their bodies to protect Palestinian life and property.

On the taxi ride to Gaza city the realization began to take hold that I was back in Palestine, the country where I lived and worked for much of the last three years before my deportation. With this realization, the adrenaline began to flow, overcoming my exhaustion.

My euphoria was in contrast to the downbeat feeling at the Ma’an office in Gaza. While my colleagues there welcomed me warmly, they seemed tired, more depressed than last year.  I suspect this was the inevitable effect of life under siege, but the staff were also discouraged by recent cutbacks imposed by the Ma’an management in Bethlehem. When I visited last year the phones were ringing, the police scanner crackling. This time the office seemed empty.

Emad, the director of the Ma’an office, took me to lunch where we talked politics. He apologized, as usual, for his English, which, of course, is very good. “You know I was 15 when the [first] Intifada began,” he explains. “None of us when to school in those days. Then I was in [Israeli] prison for four years, and after that I finished a bachelor’s and a master’s in American Studies.”

After eating, Emad and I went to a phone store to investigate why my Palestinian Jawwal phone was not working. After five minutes we experience one of Gaza’s notorious power cuts, which incurs moaning and eye-rolling from the guys in the shop. A few minutes later they drag a generator out onto the sidewalk and the electricity blinks back on. As we leave the street was filled with the roaring of the generators.

Emad told me that the situation in Gaza is “quiet,” this despite that the day I arrived, Israel launched multiple airstrikes in Gaza, injuring as many as a dozen people. One strike was overnight – one of Israel’s routine attacks in response to the homemade rockets lobbed over the border by Palestinian fighters. The second was an apparent attempted assassination on a group of guerillas from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The strike wounded three people. More on that later.

Jared Malsin blogs here. A report on his deportation is here.

18 Responses

  1. MHughes976
    October 9, 2010, 3:18 pm

    It would be interesting to see how this success in entering Gaza via Egypt compares with the frustration encountered by our colleague Susan Johnson.
    Was the cooperation of the Christian Science Monitor, which does seem to be an exceptionally conscientious element of the media, skilled in ME matters, crucial?

    • Citizen
      October 10, 2010, 4:35 am

      Good question. I just went to Susan’s site and raised it as a comment to her latest article today. Poor Susan–she’s having a horrible time with a cast on her limb and trying to use crutches. She seems to be so darn alone!

    • JaredMalsin
      October 10, 2010, 9:52 am

      Hi there. I’m not associated with Christian Science Monitor – I was only traveling with a fellow journalist who works for them.

  2. jonah
    October 9, 2010, 4:30 pm

    Gaza, the “biggest open-air prison on earth” ….

    • occupyresist
      October 10, 2010, 10:51 am

      shoot, jonah, I guess all that death and destruction is all the more justified because of this video now. You’ve discredited all the myths I’ve been led to believe about Gaza, and the “open-air” prison!!! They’re living in castles and so much luxury!! Why, whatever should I do if I were not shown such an eye-opening, accurately-documented, detailed documentary of life in Gaza!!!

      You should be given an award!

      Hey, how come there’s a pharmacy there called “Dubai Pharmacy”? Interesting.

    • occupyresist
      October 10, 2010, 10:53 am

      shoot, jonah, I guess all that death and destruction is all the more justified because of this video now. You’ve discredited all the myths I’ve been led to believe about Gaza, and the “open-air” prison!!! They’re living in castle, such luxury!! Why, whatever would I have done if I were not shown such an eye-opening, accurately-portrayed, detailed documentary of life in Gaza!!!

      You should be given an award!

      Hey, how come there’s a pharmacy there called “Dubai Pharmacy”? Interesting.

    • Sumud
      October 10, 2010, 2:52 pm

      Does that clip ease your conscious jonah?

      • potsherd
        October 10, 2010, 4:49 pm

        Zionists park their consciences outside Israel.

      • Sumud
        October 10, 2010, 6:06 pm

        Damn, there’s one spelling mistake my brain seems hard-wired for and that’s it.

  3. annie
    October 9, 2010, 5:42 pm

    thank you for the report jared. it brings to mind the total adrenaline rush i had crossing the rafah border and entering palestine. and all the people who greeted us, our warm welcome. exhilarating. looking forward to your next report.

  4. Susan Johnson
    October 9, 2010, 8:31 pm

    Hi Jared, Delighted you are in Gaza and were allowed in so easily.
    I hope you’ll share information…I am interested in giving it another try and want all the information I can collect. Also I am certain there are others out their thinking about making the trip…your experience will help!
    Questions:
    Did you go in with a press pass?
    Are you a writer with actual writing credits? If you aren’t, how do you think it would be for someone “faking” it?
    Do you think going in with someone from the Christian Science Monitor helped at the border?
    Did you have to visit the US Embassy American Citizen Services to sign away your rights to counsel? Was the fee $50?
    When you worked with Adel at the Egyptian Foreign Ministry did she represent a division for the press or for Palestine?
    Did you give your papers to the EFM or did the US Embassy send them?
    Did you have to have a letter of invitation?

    If you could answer these here…that would be wonderful…please add any other information that might be helpful to others making the trip.

    I hope your stay is successful….I’m green with envy!

    • JaredMalsin
      October 10, 2010, 9:50 am

      Hi Susan, Thank you for reading. I read about your ordeal on this site – I’m sorry we apparently missed each other in Cairo, where I gather you are still stranded?

      I did get in with a press pass, and yes, I am a journalist by profession. A major US publication provided me with a letter of assignment in support of my application. The fact that I was traveling with Kristen from CSM was coincidental. I am not associated with CSM. I would not advise you to try to “fake it” as a journalist in applying for a press pass, especially since you already applied for a permit as an NGO worker.

      I did have to sign the affidavit at the US embassy, and the fee was 50 dollars. That part of the process is the same for everyone.

      The government Press Center in Cairo handled my paperwork, not the Foreign Ministry. Adel is the Press Center contact at the border.

      I’d be happy to discuss this further by email: jared [dot] malsin [at] gmail [dot] com

      Best of luck to you!

  5. Mohammad Alsaafin
    October 10, 2010, 1:25 am

    I wonder what Jared thinks about Maan’s chief editor, Nasser Lahham, who published this nauseating paean to Abbas one day after he buried the Goldstone report for a second time a week or so ago:

    • Mohammad Alsaafin
      October 10, 2010, 1:25 am

      sorry, here’s the link:

      link to maannews.net

      • annie
        October 10, 2010, 12:48 pm

        the only honorable option open for abbas is stepping down.

    • JaredMalsin
      October 10, 2010, 10:03 am

      Hi Mohammad. Thanks for reading.

      While I have deep respect Nasser for his past achievements as a journalist and his long ordeal as a political prisoner, I strongly disagree with his view of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority in general. He does not speak for me on this issue.

      I have long been critical of Abbas and the PA, and authored a series of articles holding the PA accountable for their active efforts to bury the Goldstone report, among other matters. See the following links:

      link to maannews.net
      link to maannews.net
      link to maannews.net
      link to maannews.net

  6. Kathleen
    October 10, 2010, 5:05 pm

    thanks for this report. Are all illegal settlers out of the Gaza? How many had to leave?

  7. Kathleen
    October 10, 2010, 5:06 pm

    Jared we hear stories that Israeli prisons are known for their brutal treatment of prisoners. Can you discuss how you were treated in the Israeli prisons? Other stories of other prisoners?

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