26 June 2007
Oxfam's Michael Robin Bailey writes from Jerusalem
Another early start, trying to beat the traffic and the heat to get to the Gaza crossings to assess the situation of Gaza's link with the outside world. It is becoming a familiar route, today I am being driven. The driver tells me on the way of fears in Ramallah of Gaza style extremism appearing there.
At Erez, the main passenger terminal for Gaza of Israel's occupation transit company, there is no activity at all. Four men lounge in the shade of a canopy in the car park and tell me they are not taxi drivers but family men waiting to take sick relatives to hospitals in Tel Aviv. If they ever emerge from the swish security processing shed.
One figure does emerge, a fellow aid worker, based with his family in Gaza, he tells me how he was caught in the crush a week before and abandoned his attempt to leave. Today he was the only one in the terminal with no one in the Palestinian side and lots of attention on the Israeli side. People are worried he says, they see no future, every family has had someone killed, wounded or shot in the leg. A million and a half traumatised people depending on people on the outside to help them.
I talk on the phone to the Major in charge of civilian Liason for the Israeli Defence Force. What is the state of the crossings today? I ask. He is in a hurry but has enough time to tell me that Kerem Shalom, Israel's favoured entry point is still closed following yesterday's mortar attack. So with Erez operating at an absolute minimum, the main commercial crossing at Karni sealed by Israel and now Kerem Shalom neutralised by Palestinian violence from within Gaza one and a half million stoic Palestinians have just one lifeline, one way in for the food and animal fodder, critical equipment for the failing water system and any of the other 10,000 items they will eventually need.
So we are off, wheels spinning on route 232 all the way along the inland south east 'coast' of Gaza. Sufa is sign posted as a turn to the right, soon we are passing trucks and trailers laden with massive straw bales, animal fodder for Gaza's live stock. I count 20 trucks and 20 trailers and wonder how many days this will last.
Further along the road we start passing trucks laden with sacks of flour, beans, covered lorries full of food and refrigerated trucks with perishable goods like milk and eggs.
We drive past the queue of trucks for a kilometre before we reach the crossing control post. It is a basic affair, this command post for Gaza's only life line, sitting on the back of a pickup, under a beach umbrella two of the Major's lesser ranks share a clipboard and two rifles in the company of two civilians whose function does not become clear during my discussion with Soldier Kosta. Having called the Major for instruction, Kosta showed the best manners, humour and competence as he described how he and his team were managing Gaza's one and only life line.
"The trucks and their contents are checked and approved on the previous day, they come here and are dealt with on a first come first served basis. We check the paper work and our list (on the clipboard) and then wave them on, one at a time to the unloading area over the hill behind us. There they are unloaded by a fork lift onto the ground. When seventy trucks have been unloaded we close the Israeli border and the Palestinians come in and load the food and other goods onto their trucks and drive them into Gaza."
"We leave the refrigerated trucks with perishable goods like fresh food and medicines until last so that their contents sit in the sun for the least time."
What is the daily capacity of this crossing point? I asked. "It's the time taken for the Palestinians to clear the unloading area before sunset. We can't ensure security after dark." What will happen when the days get shorter if this system goes on for months? I wonder. The life line will get shorter. Anyway the basic roads won't stand the pounding from all the trucks in wet weather so it will be a short, bogged down life line. Not a life line at all, but then it isn't much of a life in Gaza just now by all accounts.
Heading home, we stopped for a chat with some of the drivers sitting in the meagre shade of their behelmoths. Shlomo, Hanan, Abel and Suliman, four likely lads from Israel, two Jewish the others Arab, all here "not for the money but because people need food." according to Shlomo from Hadera. "If we don't get through today we will sleep in our cabs and be here tomorrow, no problem."
So here is hope, Jews and Arabs working together to help Palestinians trapped by Israeli and Palestinian leaders. The little people helping the little people, someday maybe the big people will catch on.