'From Gaza with tears'

Eastern European women flee Hamas, Palestinian husbands stay in Gaza.

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June 21, 2007 00:22
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Leaving her Palestinian husband and home behind in Gaza, Anna fled Hamas on Wednesday for the safety of her native Belarus, with only one suitcase, a purse, and her two small children. It was not an easy decision for the 30-year-old mother, who was scared to stay and afraid to go. She spoke with The Jerusalem Post as she stood in the doorway of a bus on the Israeli side of the Erez crossing filled mostly with Russian women and children. She was so nervous for her husband's safety back in Gaza that she asked that neither his real name or hers be used for the article. Anna was one of 70 Russians and Belarusians taken out of Gaza on Wednesday with the help of the two governments, whose officials met them at the crossing. It was the first leg of a journey that included a trip through the Allenby Bridge into Jordan and a flight to Moscow. Overall, at least 160 foreigners left Gaza on Wednesday, including some 90 from Ukraine. Many of those on her bus and the one standing next to it outside the terminal had a story similar to hers, Anna said. They fell in love and married Palestinians and came to live with them in Gaza. Now they have left their husbands, not knowing when they will see them again, she said. She added that she was still shocked that she had given up everything. "My home, my things, my job are all there," she said, as she looked in the direction of Gaza, located just behind the stone and glass terminal. Anna first met her husband when he studied in Belarus, and married there 11 years ago. But her husband lacked the proper documentation to remain or to live elsewhere, so they returned to Gaza, she said. Life there was not easy, even before Hamas's violent takeover last week, she said. There were times when water and electricity were scarce and she had to plan her day around simple things like when she could shower and use the lights. Increasingly she attracted attention because with her white skin and Western clothing she looked obviously foreign. She had longed to see her mother and her former home in Belarus, but until last week she feared that if she went, she would be unable to return to Gaza. For years she had been caught in a dilemma of where to live and had chosen life with her husband in Gaza above all other considerations until this week. Fearful for her safety and that of his children in light of the violence around them, her husband pushed her to go. Anna's eyes welled with tears at the thought of him. "I had looked forward to kissing my mother again," she said, but not at the price of losing her husband. "You didn't see me yesterday. Even today I hesitated. It would be better if he left with me. Our family is now divided. This frightens me most," she said. As she spoke outside the bus, women, children and some men came out of the doorway pushing metal carts filled with bags. Some children rode on top of the suitcases. One of the few men who came out said he was both Palestinian and Russian. His wife and children, he said, were already in Russia and he was heading to join them. Irene Bsiso, who left with her two small children, said that her Palestinian husband of 14 years had stayed behind for his job. "It was not good for us, we were afraid to go on the street," she said. As she spoke, her four-year-old daughter pulled at her hand and urged her in the direction of the bus. After the two purple buses with the Russian and Belarusian citizens left, one slight young mother walked out of the Erez terminal dragging one small bag and two children, aged 6 and 4. Like Anna, one bag was all Iman Guhwaji took when she left her Gaza apartment, where she had lived for six years with her husband upon their return from Germany, where they met and married. Although she is an Israeli Arab and a native of Ramle, they lived in Gaza because her husband was a Palestinian from there and did not have permission to enter Israel. As she talked, she still held her blue plastic-covered Israeli identity card in her hand that allowed her to leave. To live in Gaza is to fear for your life at every moment, said Guhwaji. First she was scared of the Israelis. Holding her hand to her ear, she said she could still hear the sound of the IDF planes and helicopters overhead. But what drove her to leave was the Hamas takeover last week. "Now I'm very scared," she said. "Hamas is cruel. They kill people as if they were birds," she said. She paused, then added: "No, even a bird is killed with more honor." For the last week she had been on the phone seeking permission to go. On Tuesday, thinking she had approval, she left her home and headed to Erez, only to be turned back by the authorities there. Many people want to go but are too afraid of Hamas, she said. In some cases, they try and Hamas sends them home. In the weeks leading up to the takeover, she said, she stayed in her apartment, too scared to be outside even to buy food for her familiy. But she put her fears aside Tuesday and again on Wednesday to head to the crossing. Now as she stood in the bright sunlight in the almost empty parking lot by the Erez crossing, wearing a hijab on her head, a black tunic and pants, she said she felt that she could breathe easy for the first time in a long time. Watching her children twirl on the metal polls of the parking signs, she said, that her thoughts were now with her husband who is still inside Gaza. "I'm afraid for him," she said. Then she picked up her bag and with her children trailing behind her headed for a waiting taxi.

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