Stranded Palestinians feel bitter taste of captivity in Gaza

As many as 10,000 Palestinians are currently stranded at Rafah crossing, including patients facing life-threatening illnesses and 3,000 Palestinian students registered at universities outside Gaza.

Stranded Palestinians feel bitter taste of captivity in Gaza

World Bulletin/News Desk

Having packed up and left for Gaza to see her family after a six-year absence, Um Tarek did not realize the visit would bear such a hefty price.

The Palestinian mother of five, who brought her children with her to the Gaza Strip, managed to enter the coastal enclave. But on her way out, she was halted in her tracks by the closure of Gaza's only gateway to the outside world: the Rafah border crossing.

"I'm locked up here, like thousands of other Palestinians waiting for the crossing to open," Um Tarek told Anadolu Agency. "When the crossing is open, it's only for a few hours."

Following the July 3 ouster of president Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first freely-elected head of state, Egyptian authorities began placing restrictions on movement to and from Gaza through the Rafah crossing.

The restrictions went hand-in-hand with a massive crackdown launched by the Egyptian military on a network of smuggling tunnels linking Gaza to Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

The destruction of those tunnels has deprived Gaza of a major lifeline through which the strip's 1.7 million inhabitants used to obtain their basic needs, from foodstuffs and construction materials to subsidized Egyptian fuel.

Here on the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, thousands of Gaza residents – including medical patients, visitors and students – arrive every day in hopes of crossing into the outside world. But repeated closures of the crossing by Egyptian authorities have contributed to passengers' dismay.

Um Tarek was among those stranded at the border for several hours every day, waiting for it to open.

But her failure to get out of "this cage" has come at the cost of her job in the Gulf, where she has lived in recent years. Her five children, meanwhile, have also failed to make it back to their respective schools.

She spends five hours every day at the crossing point in hopes that she will be one of the fortunate ones allowed out of Gaza during the brief opening. What makes her situation more uncertain is that, like everybody else, she has no idea when – if ever – she will be allowed out of the territory.

Around 3,000 Palestinian students registered at universities outside Gaza suffer the same ordeal. They, too, are in danger of missing the academic year – which recently began at universities across the region – if they fail to get out of Gaza.

Students have staged several protests within recent days against the closure of the crossing, imploring Egyptian authorities to let them out.

"There are tens of thousands of Palestinians who want to leave," Palestinian Border Authority head Maher Abu Sabha told AA by phone. "Repeated closure of the crossing, however, has compelled us to strop registering departure applications until those already stranded at the border are allowed out."

In a statement issued on the Gaza Interior Ministry's website, he said the authority had already received 6,000 applications from Palestinians wanting to leave the territory.

Alaa al-Bata, a high-ranking ministry official, said that as many as 10,000 Palestinians were currently stranded on the border.

Among those stranded are a number of patients facing life-threatening illnesses, having failed to reach hospitals outside Gaza.

Youssef Rizk, political advisor to the Gaza government, told AA earlier that Hamas had proposed a joint-management plan of the Rafah crossing with the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA).

"I don't think the PA would react positively to this initiative either," Rizk said. "It is trying to take advantage of Hamas, particularly after the latest changes in Egypt." 

The Gaza Border Authority announced on Saturday that Egyptian authorities had notified it about reopening the crossing on Monday to allow patients, expatriates and university students out. The crossing was partially reopened on Saturday, following eight consecutive days of closure.

The possibility of the crossing's imminent reopening has heartened some would-be passengers, but has failed to cheer Um Tarek.

She came to Gaza in June, planning to spend the holy month of Ramadan with her family. She brought her children with her, but left her husband behind in the Gulf.

Now she has vowed to never visit the hapless territory again, fearing to go through the same ordeal.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 08 Ekim 2013, 16:01

Muhammed Öylek