We live next to a big open air prison.

Yes, our neighbors live in an open air prison. Our neighbors in Gaza.

When Gaza is mentioned, you are likely to automatically think of Hamas and terrorists. But the reality of the situation is that Hamas are just ruling Gaza – not everyone in Gaza is with them. Was everyone in Egypt pro Muslim Brotherhood when they were in power? Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

This is the story of a friend of mine who lives in Gaza.  She has been trying to come to Cairo for the past two months but to no avail.

Why, you ask?  Because the borders are closed. The airport was bombed and completely destroyed by Israeli forces in 2001.

Basically, there remain currently only two viable ways to leave Gaza:

1- Gaza-Egypt Rafah border. Under the new Egyptian regime this border is only open around 5 days a month, each day with a rough quota of people who can pass – on a good day, it borders around 600 but the average is 200. In broader terms, a country with a population of 1.5 million people is allowed to let through 3,000 people at most during the months of November and December.  Mind you, for Palestinians in Gaza to travel anywhere in the world they MUST travel via Egypt.
2. Gaza-Israel Erez border. This alternative route entails Palestinians driving to Jordan and traveling from there. It is only used for special cases such as medical emergencies…and we have the Israeli human track record to attest to their competence at allowing medical emergencies to pass through. Members of NGOs can also use this crossing.

So, here’s a little glimpse into the ordeals of a Palestinian who holds a dual citizenship (given priority when crossing Egyptian border) and lives in Gaza:
One: You have to go register for a date to travel, granted it has be a date when the border is scheduled to be open. Here’s the catch: you never know just when the border will be open. Sometimes maters are so vague, the doors for registration don’t even open. For example, last December the border was open for 3 days during the third week of December and for 2 days during the last week. All days were unplanned; they just decide to open it seemingly out of the blue.
Rafah Border Crossing Point (Palestinian Side) Bus Assembly Point
Rafah Border Crossing Point (Palestinian Side) Bus Assembly Point
Two: You are now registered (miraculously). You need to be out and about by 6 AM to reach the Palestinian city of Rafah, where you will wait your turn to get on a bus that takes you to Palestinian passport control.
View from the bus waiting to enter Egyptian side of Rafah Border
View from the bus waiting to enter Egyptian side of Rafah Border
You will then cross to the Egyptian side of the border where you will go through Egyptian passport control. The wait could be up to 6-7 hours once you are on the bus. Keeping in mind that the Egyptian side operates from 10AM-2PM only so any bus that doesn’t make it in by that time has to return and try again whenever the border happens to open again. Oh and sometimes they won’t accept people because “elsystem wa2e3” or, better yet, for no reason whatsoever.
Egyptian Arrival Hall (Passport Control)
Egyptian Arrival Hall (Passport Control)
Three: You’ve made it this far and you’ve passed the Egyptian side. Now you take a five hour drive to Cairo (bus or private car).
So, basically, to get from Gaza to Cairo you would wake up at 6AM and arrive at 6PM (if you’re damn lucky, that is). A flight to New York is quicker, just to put things in perspective.
Bus to Cairo
Bus to Cairo

And throughout these 12 hours you won’t even be sure of your arrival because nothing is actually ever confirmed. You don’t know for a fact that you will cross until you actually do.

This friend of mine attempted this impossible crossing twice during the month of December. She was supposedly given priority because she had both a wasta and dual citizenship yet around 1 PM both times, she found herself being sent back to her home in Gaza.

This is nothing short of a large human prison. They can’t exit, they can’t leave, no one can reach them except NGO or government members. Not to mention that Israel has Gaza under siege; blocking aid, some construction and medical materials, and wielding control over many a restrictions.

Even electricity is not guaranteed.  On a good day, they would have 12 hours of electricity. We couldn’t bear it when the electricity intermittently cut under Morsi’s rule. Imagine having to live without for the majority of your day, every single day.

Politics is sickening. I personally blame all the parties involved –  the Egyptian borders, Hamas, and the Israelis. Politics knows no humanity, the well being of human beings is forgotten amidst the power struggle and the dirty games and tricks played. And for these sickening ends, some people end up living within the confinements of a trap that is a big open air prison that fits 1.5 million people.