During my visit to Israel and Palestine earlier this month I was able to spend five and a half hours in Gaza. I intended to spend several days visiting AFSC’s staff and partners in Gaza but the Israeli military didn’t approve the permits I required to enter Gaza until the day before I was scheduled to return to the United States.
Gaza isn’t an easy place to visit. The Israeli military controls entry to Gaza and only grants permits (when it grants them) to accredited journalists, diplomats, and individuals working for international organizations approved to provide humanitarian assistance in Gaza. For those holding permits access to Gaza is tightly controlled. The crossing into Gaza opens at 8:00 am and on most days closes at 3:30 pm. Take away time spent in security checks and passing through the no man’s land that separates the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the crossing and five and a half hours is the amount of time that remains available for meetings in Gaza during a one day visit.
When I finally received my permit there was a part of me that questioned traveling to Gaza when the time spent in transit and moving through the crossing would be equal to the time spent in Gaza.
Yet my response was accompanied by an awareness that my receipt of a permit and how I responded are both symptomatic of privilege and freedoms unavailable to Palestinians from Gaza.
A one-day travel permit is all that was needed by my colleague Ali one week prior when he wanted to join us for regional planning meetings in Jordan, but he wasn’t granted a permit for even one day.
A one-day travel permit is all that was needed by my colleague Jehad’s sister when she wished to travel to the US to begin her university studies earlier this year, but like many other students in Gaza she was denied a permit and thus the opportunity to pursue her studies.
A one-day travel permit is all that is needed by many patients in Gaza who need to leave Gaza for medical treatments that are unavailable in Gaza, but over 50% of all requests to leave Gaza for medical treatment are denied.
A one-day travel permit is all that is needed by Palestinians outside Gaza who wish to return home to visit their families. At present Palestinians from Gaza who leave to pursue their education outside, to get married, or for other reasons cannot return home to visit their families because there is no guarantee they will be granted the permit they will later need to leave again.
A one-day permit is all that is needed by Palestinians from Gaza who wish to pray in Jerusalem at Christian or Muslim holy sites but permits for worship are not granted.
A one-day permit is all that is needed to allow Palestinians from Gaza to reach the West Bank where they can pursue studies, visit family, or simply tour but permits are not granted for these purposes.
This denial of free movement is the core of the blockade. We often focus our attention on the humanitarian impacts of the blockade and the blockade’s impact on industry and infrastructure. Those impacts cannot be over stated, but at its heart the blockade is about denying people the freedom to live their lives where and how they wish. It is this denial of freedom that most impacts people, and it is this denial that must end.