Gaza: A land of Contrast (Part 1)

Gaza: A land of Contrast (Part 1)

I recently returned from a trip to the Middle East to visit the Foods Resource Bank (FRB) programs that we have in the region one of which, is located in the Gaza Strip.  Since my return home I’ve been struggling to find the best way to describe my experiences and to share the stories of those we visited.  As I think through all that happened in the short 1-day visit to Gaza I keep coming back to the idea that there were many “opposites” existing at once.   These opposites occurred in many different forms and I will try to explain them in more details as I write this.

Is Gaza Palestinian or is it Israeli?

According to Wikipedia, the Palestinian National Authority is the interim self-government body established to govern the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as a consequence of the 1994 Oslo Accords.  Israel controls Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters and restricts the movement of people or goods into and out of Gaza.  The legal status of the Gaza strip is disputed.  Israel maintains that its occupation of Gaza, as defined by Article 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, ended following the completion of its unilateral disengagement plan in 2005, asserting that Israel has no functions of government in the Gaza Strip.  This is not accepted by the UN, Human Rights Watch and many other international bodies and NGOs, who still consider Israel to be the occupying power.

In order to enter the Gaza Strip we had to obtain permission from both the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Government as well as go through 3 separately controlled immigration checkpoints, which were controlled, by Israel, Fatah and Hamas (Fatah and Hamas are two parties within the Palestinian government).  Currently Fatah controls the Palestinian National Authority and Hamas controls Gaza.

Intimidating Rigidity and Real Life

Crossing through the immigration checkpoints was an intimidating experience.  Of course I knew that I was not planning any harm and was not doing anything wrong but it still made me extremely nervous.  The Israeli checkpoint is a large, stark building with cameras everywhere and armed soldiers patrolling the area in small groups making sure you don’t congregate in one area too long.  The building is similar to an airport ticketing center and looks like it was built to quickly process thousands of people but both on our entry and our exit our group was one of only a few people there.  I felt that I was supposed to be on edge while in this large building.  

As we worked our way through the building we first come to a staffed checkpoint. We were allowed to enter into the area when a green light appeared on the door.  After I entered I saw another locked door in front of me as the one behind me clicked shut and locked.  Here I gave my passport and documentation to the agent and answered a series of questions. They felt accusatory, mainly addressing who I was and why I was coming into the region.  The woman I faced was stern but polite and I was quite nervous until I noticed that off to the side she had placed a book lying on her desk with the spine facing up holding the page she was reading.  That book was “50 Shades of Gray”.  When I saw that I realized that even with how tense this situation was this person is casually reading a popular book while waiting around for people to come through her station.  It helped to me relax to see a more human side of her, knowing that we are both “just people."

After exiting the Israeli checkpoint we walked for about 15 minutes through a long gated corridor to reach the Fatah and Hamas checkpoints.  This walk was mainly quiet as our group was processing all of their emotions.  As I reflected on my surroundings I was reminded of the images I call to mind when reading “1984” or “The Hunger Games”.  Outside of the gated area there was a large field that was dotted with occasional flowers and birds.  I imagine in other circumstances it would be a peaceful place to take a reflective hike.

The tension and uneasiness continued until we finally passed all checkpoints and were allowed to enter Gaza City.  Though the technological resources were not as advanced as the cameras and security checks in the Israeli checkpoint each of the Palestinian checkpoints were set up to find out why you were entering into the region and to determine that you were safe to enter.  In the countryside surrounding the checkpoints were young boys herding their livestock, which reminded me that even in a land where chaos, destruction, and fear are normal, life goes on.

Eric Mattson, FRB Staff

If you would like to learn more about this area I would suggest:

Checking out information on FRB's Palestine-Gaza Program or our Palestine-West Bank program.

Reading: “Palestine Inside Out.  An Everyday Occupation” by Saree Makdisi

“I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey” by Izzeldin Abuelaish

Watching: “Five Broken Cameras” directed by Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi”

“The Gatekeepers” directed by Dror Moreh

04/15/2013 | Comments: 0 | Add Comment