Trip Start Dec 10, 2007
Trip End Jan 10, 2008

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Flag of Palestinian Territory  ,
Sunday, January 6, 2008

Aunt Jen and I were asking ourselves: what do you bring to people living under siege? She has a big backpack and we figured we'd fill it up with rice, sugar, coffee, stuff like that. So we were kinda surprised when she called her friends in Gaza to ask what she could bring for them, and from everyone she got two answers:
Cigarettes and chocolate.

So, we arrived at Erez checkpoing, where almost no one is permitted to cross these days, with a backpack filled with cartons of cigarettes, chocolate, a few bottles of shampoo and two rechargeable strip lights, since there is now a fuel shortage in Gaza and electricity is being cut.  Aunt Jen had gotten permission from the Israeli army to enter Gaza, but she didn't give the army my passport number for permission, so she had to smuggle me in the bag with the chocolate. Boy, was it hard not to eat some of it while we waited!

We spent two days going all over the Gaza Strip, from Rafah to Khan Younes to Jabalia, Beit Hanoun and Gaza City, meeting with NGOs, finding out more about the situation since the siege began and learning about how the Hamas takeover of Gaza Strip was affecting people, not to mention the internal fighting that led up to the takeover.

Aunt Jen's friend told her that there used to be 9,000 different products that were allowed into Gaza Strip but since the siege began, the number of products allowed in were exactly 12. From 9,000 to 12. I thought about Alex's 2nd grade class. It could be a good class exercise.  If you needed to make a list of the 12 things most important to survival, what would you put? Gazans didn't even have the ability to choose their 12 items, they don't control their borders or what is allowed in or what--and who--is allowed out.

It also explained the requests for chocolate and cigarettes. Staple food items that were on the list of 12--such as rice, coffee, sugar--are available--inconsistently and overpriced, since they don't get brought in regularly or in enough quantities--but available. Cigarettes are only available on the black market--for over $10 a pack, and you can't get your hands on chocolate at all.

A lot was really sad during those two days and Aunt Jen didn't feel comfortable taking a whole lot of pictures.

But, we were able to meet one amazing family in Rafah, the Nasrallah family, and take a lot of photos with them.

The Nasrallah family are close friends of Cindy and Corrie, who in turn, are close to Aunt Jen. When Cindy and Craig's daughter, Rachel, was in Rafah in 2003, she was participating in non-violent work as a human rights activist. She and other activists tried to protect people's homes from being bulldozed as a form of collective punishment that is against international law. Rachel was run over and killed by a Caterpillar bulldozer while she was trying to protect the Nasrallah's home from being destroyed on March 16, 2003.

Aunt Jen had heard a lot about this family but had never met them before, so it's great that we could spend a few hours with them in Rafah. Boy, did I have fun meeting them, especially Dr. Samir! He is such a funny guy! And all the kids were trying to see if they could come up with more creative ways to pose with me in a picture. The littlest daughter was holding onto me when it was time for us to go. I know Aunt Jen would have liked to offer for me to stay with her, and I wouldn't have minded. But I knew that I have to be returned to Alex in a few weeks, so Aunt Jen had to take me back.

Still, it was wonderful to finally meet this family!

Back in Gaza city that night, I met a lot of friends of Aunt Jen's and I also learned how to smoke an arghila! First a cigarette, then an arghilla, what will I get corrupted with next?

We really didn't want to leave when the time came, there was too many more people to talk to and too much to still try to understand, but the border closes at 7pm and our flight was two days later--we needed to be able to get back to Jerusalem to get our things together.  They asked Aunt Jen a lot of questions at Erez and for a moment she was nervous that maybe security was going to deny her entry back into Israel, even though it was the army who had given her permission to be there in the first place.

"What if they don't let us back in?" I whispered to Aunt Jen.  The border between Gaza and Egypt was now sealed, the only way in and out of Gaza Strip was the crossing at Erez.  "Will they send us back to Gaza...forever?"  Aunt Jen motioned to me to be quiet--she had to smuggle me out the same way she smuggled me in--and I tried to lay very still in the bag of embroidery that we were bringing out that we had purchased from a women's collective in Rafah. I did my best to look like an embroidered wall hanging when the bag was on the x-ray machine, but I have to admit I was a little nervous of being discovered.

But we were able to leave Gaza without a problem in the end.
Aunt Jen said it made her sad that we could come and go from Gaza, but her friends and the other 1.3 million people there couldn't leave at all.
"Can't they pretend to be a piece of embroidery like me?" I asked.
Aunt Jen sort of smiled as she buckled me into my seat preparing to drive away from Gaza, but it wasn't a real smile and she didn't answer my question.
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Israela on

Gaza? is this the place from where the murderer of the family from Itamar came?

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