Friday, August 12, 2005

They have Nice Dogs

Khan Younis, Gaza

Spending the day in Khan Younis inside the Palestinian side of Gaza is not everyone’s idea of having a fun day in the sun. In the lead up to the disengagement next week, it was like a last chance to go into Gaza and experience the desperation that the locals must endure everyday whilst the Israelis are still there.

The population of Gaza is so young that more than an estimated 60% of the people there have never lived without the Israelis controlling every aspect of there lives there.

To put Gaza into perspective, it is only 40 km long and 5 km wide, the 8,000 Israeli settlers have 40% of the land (the best land) and the remaining 1.2 million, read that number again 1,200,000 live in the other 60%. The only way to enter Gaza, is through the Erez Checkpoint at the Northern end, there you come straight into Gaza City and all the
Refugee Camps like “Jabaliya and Beach Camps”, here squalor and life live in hand in hand. Whilst they are called camps they are just suburbs of Gaza City.

There is one and only one road down thru Gaza to the southern cities of Khan Younis and Rafah, which borders onto Egypt with the Israeli buffer zone known as Phildelphi road. This is where the tunnels for smuggling are and have been flashpoints for clashes for years.

Now the problem is that this road is only two lanes wide and passes thru Israeli settlements, so the IDF controls the road that is the main and only road to commute on in Gaza. The Israeli checkpoints that control this road are full-scale military options, no soldiers are seen, they sit in Concrete turrets and can close the road at any time for any reason.

Yesterday was no exception, we had wrapped filming in Khan Younis and wanted to get back to Gaza City and out through Erez. But the IDF had closed the road and we were in a traffic jam that stretched back a couple of km. There was nothing anyone could do we just had to sit and wait. Looking around at the Palestinians sitting in the heat of summer in the taxis and the frustrations of truck drivers you could sense that they know there is nothing they could do. When the Israelis would open the road no one could tell, it could of been in two minutes two hours or two days, there is nothing you can do but wait.

Somehow Niall our local fixer/producer managed to convince the Palestinian soldiers who were trying to maintain a semblance of order in this road closure, that as foreign press we were important and should go to the front of the line. Now I am not ashamed to say that we did get the green light to go ahead towards the front of the line and we took off only to sit in the heat further up the line. You just sit and wait, we probably spent an hour all told waiting there.

Which was only a precursor to the frustrations of trying to get out of Erez, we got to the first Palestinian checkpoint where they co-ordinate with the IDF to allow you to re enter back into Israel. Only to find out that no one was going out, you must wait how long no one could tell, my record is having to wait 8 hours. I just hoped that it was not going to be that long, it was 6:15 pm when we arrived and the border closes at 9pm.

The reason for the delay we found out was that Palestinian workers were coming back into Gaza after working the day in Israel, and with the disengagement the soldiers at the Erez Crossing were short staffed, so we had to wait.

Hot tired and sweaty we sat in the car, tried to sleep, tried to pass time, tried phone calls to anyone who could help us and tried not to look at our watches. It was getting darker and darker; this is no place to get caught after nightfall.

Two and half hours later we finally got out of Gaza and back into Israel, the whole experience can only be likened to escaping from prison, yet another blog subject on another day.

Perhaps the telling moment of the day, and the title of this blog belong to Mohammed Mouser aged thirteen. We were filming the final sequence for the story looking into the Gush Katif Settlements from the Palestinian side and I noticed Mohammed standing on a wall looking into the Settlements. After I had shot the sequence we were talking to him asking if he had ever gone into the Settlements, no he replied, but he had once got close to the fence and was watching life in there, his only line back to us was “They have nice dogs in there”.

Strange what people admire on the other side of the fence.

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