We had the opportunity to go into Gaza for a few hours one day. It all came together at the last moment, so that meant we got the phone call and jumped into the car for the 45 minute drive to the border.
At the border you have to clear Israeli customs and immigration and then go through Fatah (official ruling party though only in name in Gaza) and Hamas (the group actually in control) checkpoints. Israeli customs included a one-by-one grilling by an intimidating young woman, then security and a long walk through a huge empty building.
Outside the building was another walk through two gates before getting to the wall, which had a solid steel door. Coiled barbed wire rimmed the top of the 25-foot concrete wall. We had to stand there for about half an hour until Israeli guards decided to hit the button opening the door and let us and other aid workers through. I couldn’t take photos, obviously. Then we had about a two-mile walk along a roofed and fenced in walk-way through no man’s land.
At the other end, Fatah workers siting in an office made of an old container stamped our paperwork and waved us on. Taxi drivers in ramshackle vehicles were waiting to ferry us along the dusty dirt road to the Hamas checkpoint. There, more guards in an even more dilapidated set of old containers reviewed our paperwork and entered our names by hand in a notebook. A fully covered female security guard went through my camera bag and gave me the pat down before we were finally able to pass through.
Crossing the border is like stepping back in time. Israel is a fully modern first-world country, but Gaza looks like time has forgotten it. It reminded me a lot of the Puyo in the 80s, the biggest town near where I grew up in Ecuador. Except I’m not even sure that Puyo had that many horses pulling carts. I suppose the carts are due to a lack of accessibility to fuel.
The day we were there, there was no bottled water to be found in the city, because Egypt had closed their border into Gaza, and no goods could come in.
If it weren’t for the political situation, Gaza could almost be a tourist town, situated right on the blue Mediterranean Sea. We enjoyed a lunch of fresh fish, something that’s always plentiful.
After just a few short hours, it was time to leave, since Israel closes the checkpoint at 3 p.m., and we needed to get home for the night. We rushed back through the checkpoints and no man’s land and were subjected to deeper security on the Israeli side, once again standing before the daunting concrete wall and steel door, hoping the guards would let us in before their shift ended.
On the other side, we went through full-body scanners like at the airport and had our bags totally taken apart in another room where we couldn’t watch. Then it was another grilling interview with Miss Intimidating Guard before finally stepping out into bright Israeli sunlight on the other side.