Caught on the wrong side

By David Chater in Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip / Al Jazeera

One and a half million people live in the Gaza Strip, crammed into towns and refugee camps. This year, residents have seen countless Israeli blockades and incursions, and factional fighting between Hamas and Fatah on their streets.

Al Jazeera looks at how Gaza’s people are living under siege.

Thousands of Palestinians were trapped when the Rafah crossing was sealed.

They are only now starting to return home, two months after factional fighting in the Gaza Strip left Hamas in apparent total control.

Caught on the wrong side of the border, their homecoming has been a long and arduous one.

Their final barrier: the Israeli-controlled Erez Crossing in the north of the Strip.

Exhausted by their ordeal, they were labelled and processed one by one through the checkpoints.

Confused by the clinical efficiency of the terminal after the squalor of Rafah, they hardly knew which way to turn.

Many of them left Gaza to find treatment for chronic medical conditions.

Sedky, one such Gazan, said he thanked God that he would see his family and children again, and that he had felt so alone without them.


Ambulances and medics at the crossing, treating a woman who had collapsed, brought a reminder of the fact that 32 people died while stranded at Rafah.

“The refusal by the US, EU et al to deal with Hamas reflects their disrespect for the wishes of the Palestinian people”Elise, Bemidji, US

They came home, but in coffins through a freight terminal.

Atiah Salem Joref, a Gaza returnee, said: “We were stuck there for 10 weeks. We suffered so much hardship.”

“Look at us, we’re so tired. We’ve had no sleep. We’ve been living on the edge. But soon we will all be home.”

Many of the women and children were reduced to begging to survive at Rafah. They have escaped that humanitarian disaster but are walking back into another.

Hamas says the fact these Palestinians can only return to Gaza through the Erez Crossing means the Strip has again been put under Israeli Occupation Control and turned it into a huge prison.

It accuses the Palestinian caretaker government in the West Bank of playing an immoral role in the suffering of its own people for allowing it.

However, that accusation has also been levelled at Hamas.

Rafah closed

It is half a mile hike in the heat and the sun from the Erez crossing into Gaza before you reach the first signs of authority, in the shape of Hamas and the Executive Force.

Under an agreement brokered by the United States, the Rafah crossing was run by Fatah Presidential guards with observers from the European Union.

But after the armed takeover by Hamas, Egypt, the EU and Israel say the border will remain sealed.

The political and moral complexities that trapped the Palestinians in Rafah for so long quickly dispersed as families were at last reunited.

Adham Ghaliya, another Gaza returnee, was sent to the United States for treatment of the wounds he received when an Israeli gunship shelled a beach in Gaza last year. Seven members of his extended family died.

“No one touch me,” the boy pleaded, “I am so exhausted from all the walking.”

Words ignored as his relatives reached to embrace him.

Home at last, but with memories that have left as many raw scars as the shrapnel.

Ali Ghaliya, Adham’s uncle, said: “When he arrived, I’m the one who bathed him. He was very dirty. It’s as if he was shepherding goats for three months.”


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