The inside of Gaza’s international airport, wrecked by Israeli air strikes (Photo: Free Gaza/Flickr)
And thereby hangs a tale. And therein lies my pain. What worsens the situation and doubles the pain is that all moves around, oblivious to every fact on the ground. I seem destined to suffer each time I have to cross the Rafah border into Egypt. My story is not worth mentioning as compared to other ghastly stories whose ending is shaped by the Palestinian-Egyptian mood by which the conflict is once eased and million times further complicated. Unluckily, the latter has always been my case whenever I need to travel. And this makes the odyssey of crossing the Rafah-border worth telling. “Why don’t Palestinians have an airport?” it’s the joke that kills me the most. The difficulty of going out and into Gaza makes each story have its own special taste of pain. The last I travelled, I wished Gaza were located next to Cairo’s International Airport, so we wouldn’t have to withstand the humiliation of being allowed to cross the desert on a six-hour car ride from Gaza to Cairo. “Why couldn’t we transfer Gaza there, so we wouldn’t bother the Egyptians ever again?” this is the joke I want to hear and weep at.
When waiting became unbearable, I declared a state of emergency. I needed to travel to Spain to meet my fiancé to whom I have been engaged for six months, since he himself couldn’t come to Gaza to meet me. It was so urgent for us to meet up before I could go to America for my scholarship; which means, we won’t be able to see each other for almost a year. Time wasn’t on our side. After two months of intensive labour, the Schengen visa was issued, miraculously. Thanks to the Consulate General of Spain in Jerusalem for being so very considerate. With all we had gone through to get this visa, Egypt suddenly declared that the Rafah border would be closed for some days, on the pretext of having some security concerns and other essential maintenance work at the border. Egypt closed the border without showing any consideration whatsoever for the Palestinians who were dying to get out, for those who purchased their flight tickets at too great a price, for those whose departure from Gaza was a matter of life and death, for those whose scholarships were to be lost due to the border closure and the list goes on. I just wonder when we will be able to travel freely with no restrictions over movement? Will the new Egyptian government bring any real change on the ground?
When I heard the news regarding the closure of the Rafah Border, I tried my best to keep my composure despite my desperate need to explode into tears. I can’t but owe my fiancé whose faith and patience feed my hope and stamina whenever I am about to lose both. I put all my trust in Allah Who always wants the best for us, for me. Alhamdulillah, after living on my nerves for a week, I rejoiced at the news that finally Egypt decided to open the border. My happiness was beyond any description. Without going into details, I would like to say that despite the humiliation I had to experience and the difficulties I had to endure, my trip was totally worth it.
Speaking of my Fulbright scholarship, I was supposed to attend an orientation meeting in Turkey/Istanbul; that is, I had to travel once again. This time, I needed not wait at the border or cross the Sinai desert. I was a normal traveler, at an airport, flying from Valencia to Turkey, no dehumanization or humiliation whatsoever. Yes, I was a normal human being traveling from one place to another, smoothly. If it wasn’t for the hard moment I spent at the Valencia Airport, for I had to say goodbye to the man I love the most on earth, I would have considered this flight the best I have ever had.
The funniest part of this tale started on my way back from Turkey to Cairo. At the airport, I happened to be travelling with many Egyptians who warmly saluted me being a Palestinian. I can’t but scribble down the many questions I was asked by the Egyptians who were on the same flight as mine. By “the Egyptian”, I don’t mean only one Egyptian; there were many asking, but I knew no one’s name, so let’s refer to them as “the Egyptian”, I “the Palestinian” and whatever written between brackets are the thoughts I had in mind back then.
The Egyptian: So, you are from Gaza? How’s Gaza doing these days?
The Palestinian: Alhamdulillah, Gaza is now better off, despite the daily power cuts, the high rate of unemployment,… I think things are now changing to the better. (I avoided mentioning the siege and the closure of the Rafah border, so the Egyptians wouldn’t feel offended as though I was blaming them for the siege)
The Egyptian: But tell us how you can handle the Israeli soldiers in your country?
The Palestinian: (I paused, then frowned. For some reason, I couldn’t fathom the question I was asked. Israeli soldiers? Country? Didn’t I mention I was from Gaza?) What Israeli soldiers? We don’t have them in Gaza.
The Egyptian: Wallahi, bjd? really? Ya3ni khalas mafesh I7telal 3endokom? So, no Israeli Occupation out there?
The Palestinian: Well, not really, we are still occupied. (Did I confuse them more?)
The Egyptian: eezay? How so?
The Palestinian: Yes, Gaza is still under siege, still occupied, but there is no physical interaction between us and the occupier. We have no control over the land, the sky and the sea… (I was trying to elaborate, making sure I don’t confuse further. By the way, I thought they knew this)
The Egyptian: Ah! Anyway, our heart is with you wallahi!
The Palestinian: We know. We all appreciate what the Egyptians do for us.
The Egyptian: Don’t mention! We are Ummah wahada (one nation)
The Palestinian: Yes, Alhamdulillah. May Allah unite us, always.
The Egyptian: Okay, but tell us why are you visiting Cairo? Any relatives? Vacation?
The Palestinian: No, wallah, I am going back home, Gaza.
The Egyptian: But Habibti this flight is heading to Cairo, not Gaza!
The Palestinian: Yes, I know, Palestinians have to cross Egypt to go back to Gaza
The Egyptian: lesh el laffa di? why all this trouble? Don’t you have an airport in Gaza?
That was the joke that killed me. Well, I wanted to tell them “of course we do, but Gaza airport is old-fashioned (no wonder I love fashion), and it is actually fun to have a six-hour car ride crossing the desert only to enjoy life’s luxury at Cairo Airport”. I didn’t want to sound rude though. I tried my best to explain the situation in Gaza, and that Gaza is not actually a country, the Rafah crossing, the siege,…etc. Those Egyptians seem way better off than that Egyptian who once asked my friend “heya Ghazah di feen? Where exactly does Gaza exist?” Anyway, I just hope I made myself a bit more understandable. Again, it would be ridiculous to generalize from a single example. Yes, I have seen many people confused about whatever related to Palestine; however, I am sure some others are very understanding of our situation and fully aware of what’s really going on in reality. I am in no position to judge anyone. It’s our duty to clear up any confusion. Now, wouldn’t it be a bit less confusing if we had an airport in Gaza?
Ps. Since I didn’t find a cool photo of Gaza Airport, I posted my photo with that resentful look! It may serve a purpose or convey a message!
(Crossposted on Fidaa Abu Assi ‘s blog Gaza in Words)