Hellish Humiliation at Rafah Crossing

Diaries, Featured
June 24, 2011 13:34

“Oh yes! I got the scholarship! I’ll be going to USA for a leadership program,” I said while jumping with happiness after reading the email with news of my approval. I was sure that I had passed the most difficult step in my journey to the USA. But something in the back of my mind kept me reminding that it isn’t the step I should be worried about. I kept wondering whether I had rushed into happiness. Was it too early to feel like I was in control of everything? I was about to find the answers…

When the time to book my tickets came, the American embassy gave me two options; either to leave through Egypt to the USA, or to go through Erez border to Amman and then to the US. I was confused. I had a flashback of being humiliated at the Erez border when I went to Jerusalem to get my visa to the USA. I thought that was enough of that, and there was no need to go through the same experience again. In the meantime, I had read articles and followed the news that announced the permanent opening of the Rafah crossing. So I quickly decided to go through Egypt, believing this decision will take me to the US just in time.

I arrived at the Rafah crossing charged with confidence and optimism just like a juiced up mobile phone. But just like signal problems dry up your phone battery, the chaos and confusion there started to take its toll and my energy started to drain. I was in the middle of a bunch of discordant voices which eventually end up driving me crazy. If Erez Crossing was sheer humiliation, Rafah was providing its fair share of embarrassment and distress…

rafah gaza egypt border

A typical scene at the border control hall on Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Palestine. Photo - Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

Haha, welcome to confusing world of Gaza! First, I heard that it was not difficult any more to leave through Rafah, and that it was even easier for women. “All you need is a passport and you will leave very easily and quickly.” Most people agreed on that, relying on fake news perpetrated by the media.

Later, I realised that what was being reported is not the reality. I went to Rafah border to reserve the date of 18 June to travel to Cairo. When I went there, I found people fighting because every date before the 22nd of next month had already been taken. I was very depressed, thinking that my dream of visiting the USA couldn’t come true and this time it will be due to the chaos at our southern border. But I was lucky enough to meet a man who sympathised with me and sacrificed his reservation on the 18th of June in my favour. “Shahd, you’re bloody lucky!” I thought of myself…

palestinian women waiting rafah border egypt palestine gaza

Young Palestinian women wait to cross into Egypt at the Rafah border crossing on Tuesday 21 June. Photo - Hatem Moussa/AP

Then came 18th of June. I was at the Rafah border by 7 am. I was kept standing for long hours under the burning sun with my dad and friends Joe and Rocky from ISM who came to see me off. The humiliation started to pour in. I had to literally beg people to help me. I saw old men and women crying. I then realised that wherever I went, I would get humiliated, and that I should have ignored my humiliating experience at Erez because no matter how hard that was for me, it wasn’t any harder than the humiliation I was facing at Rafah. I stood in searing heat for a flat 9 hours that day went back home at around 4 pm. I forced myself to sleep to escape from the frustration I experienced all day long…

The next day, I woke up early and made a second attempt at the crossing. But it did not stop there. I made a second attempt; a third, fourth and fifth, all for nothing! Every single day, I left home very early with my suitcase, putting family and myself through mental and physical torture and returning home after witnessing chaos and accumulating more indignation. Five days, 8 hours every day. But here I’m, still stuck in the horrible prison of Gaza…

If asked in two simple words, Rafah border is pure hell. Every day the experiences at the border became worse than ever. Every day my frustration reached new heights. “There’s only one way you’re going to leave: with a strong connection,” I was told everywhere I went. This is how the system works at Rafah border. I bled tears with people who have been struggling for weeks to leave this place but have not been able to. There was no mercy for anybody: old or young, sick or healthy, men or women. It’s not like the movies; it is true drama with unimaginable misery and gloom. For the past five days, I’m dying to hear a certain response from anyone working there. Nobody bothers to talk to you or tell anything, you just have to try and try, running from pillar to post, without giving up…

palestinian woman cries rafah border egypt gaza palestine

A Palestinian woman yells at the border officials at the Rafah border crossing in southern Gaza Strip last week. Tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated at the crossing calling on Egyptian authorities to permanently open the borders and end restrictions on travellers. Photo - Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

My hopes of crossing the border though Rafah, quickly without any difficulty, haunt me every single minute. How bloody naive I was to think like that! But after going through this hell, don’t think that I am going to surrender. No, I’ll keep going. Persistence is the only way to reach goals, and I’ll reach them eventually.

Why should my dreams be crushed at the Rafah border? How can I lose a chance that a Gazan can have once in a lifetime? Why should the media lie about reality? Why should they let us go so far with our dreams, then finally shock us with the reality? Where is the honesty of the media and where is the honesty of leaders, be they Palestinian or Egyptian? Who is responsible for all the suffering that Gazans face at Rafah? These are the questions that I, besides thousands of Gazans, ask every single day. And we will keep asking such questions…for we are the victims of a web of lies and deceit…

Shahd Abusalama  is a 19-year old Palestinian artist who lives in Gaza with her family. Her artwork has been put on display on numerous occasions. Shahd takes deep interest in issues relating to Gazan society and works on several projects related to the welfare of orphans. She considers it her moral and national duty to tell the world about the sufferings of Palestinians under the brutal Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip. She also maintains her own blog titled Palestine from My Eyes. Story by Shahd Abusalama; Edited & Published by Moign Khawaja.

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