Despite everything, some Gazans return home

While hundreds wait at Erez to flee, 20 Palestinians go back every day.

gazans return 298 88 (photo credit: tovah lazaroff)
gazans return 298 88
(photo credit: tovah lazaroff)
A deep desire to return home drove an Palestinian couple in their early 60s to leave the safety of Israel for the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, despite the violent Hamas takeover last week. On the Palestinian side of the Erez Crossing, dozens of Palestinian men, women and children looking to flee Gaza have huddled in the long concrete tunnel that leads to the stone and glass building on the Israeli border. But on the Israeli side, some 20 Palestinians a day have returned to Gaza, according to Israeli officials. On Tuesday afternoon, looking like lemmings swimming against the tide, Issah, 63, and Jamil Muslem, 60, arrived at the crossing from Tel Aviv with so many plastic bags and small suitcases they needed two metal carts to lug their belongings. They had lived in Tel Aviv for two months so Jamil could seek treatment for breast cancer at Ichilov Hospital. Now that Jamil was better, Issah said, they were eager to return home to Beit Lahiya. "Home is best," he said with a smile, as he walked away with his wife towards a waiting bus. Reem Abu Jaber, 35, who pulled up in a white taxi, was also smiling as she pulled her two large black suitcases up to the security officials at the gate. After 45 days in Jordan, she too was glad to be heading back. Once Hamas took over the Strip, she said, "many people said, 'Don't return.'" Abu Jaber, who directs a children's library in Gaza City called Qattan Center for the Child, said she saw no reason to heed their advice. "I was there [in Gaza] for the first Intifada and the second Intifada," said Abu Jaber, who wore a hijab (head covering), sunglasses, jeans and a green striped shirt. "I don't belong to Fatah or Hamas, so I do not feel that I am [caught] in the middle between them. I am not afraid," she said. Getting permission to leave Gaza, she added, was very difficult. In her last few moments before crossing, as she stood in the hot sun, she said, "I know it could be impossible to leave again." Ellen Rosser, 71, of California said she, too, saw no reason not to go "home" to Gaza after spending a week in Jordan. She carried a plastic bag with dried yellow decorative weeds and a new sketch book in one hand and a written solution to the problem of Jerusalem tucked among the papers in her purse in the other hand. She said she has been in Gaza for the last nine months working for the Friendship & Peace Society, a non-profit group she said is dedicated to resolving long-standing national, ethnic and religious violence. Hamas didn't scare her, Rosser said, because she believed "they want peace." Other than work, when she got home, she said, she was looking forward to drawing the view of the harbor from her apartment window. Off to the side stood a number of buses that had arrived at 9 a.m. to transport the Palestinians if they were allowed to cross. To escape the heat, the drivers sat in the baggage compartment. But by 4 p.m., they were told to leave, since none of the people in the tunnel were likely to be allowed to pass through. The Associated Press reported that hundreds were waiting there because they feared death and persecution at the hands of Hamas. Around 100 people belonged to Fatah security forces, and the rest were civilians. Israeli officials said there were 70 to 80 people in the tunnel. Women, children and young men sat between two high concrete walls about 10 meters apart, looking tired and sweaty. Suitcases and trash were strewn on the ground. Some families sat on mats, others on bare concrete. A breeze barely stirred between the walls, and the tunnel, which has no toilets, reeked of urine and sweat. AP contributed to this report.