I try not to think about how, later this month, I will enter the Erez checkpoint from the Israeli side and cross back into Gaza, unsure when, if ever, I will be allowed to leave again.
Friends and family back home keep asking, “How’s life outside Gaza?” I can’t answer. How to tell people who live on four to six hours of electricity daily that high-rise buildings in New York leave their lights on 24 hours a day, simply because it looks nice? How it feels to live without generator noises, the deafening roar of Israeli military drones at night, or the constant fear of imminent conflict? Or that you can hop on a bus, train or plane on a whim, without needing a permit, and travel across the world?
I was born and grew up in Gaza. My father was a soccer coach for many years and his stories about his travels to other countries always made me want to travel too. But Israel imposed a land, air and sea blockade on Gaza in 2007 and has kept Gaza mostly closed ever since. So I never made it out until now, at age 31, I was allowed to leave — for just a little while.
I work for a global human rights organization and spent months seeking the exit permit from the Israeli government that would allow me to leave, to participate in security and research training sessions, to attend key organizational meetings, and to meet colleagues based just a short drive away in Jerusalem or Ramallah — to say nothing of those overseas. But I faced obstacles every step of the way to obtaining the documents and permissions I needed simply to get out of Gaza itself — until I got a phone call on January 28.
The prospect of leaving the 25-by-7-mile territory for the first time in my life made me so anxious I could not sleep the night before my scheduled departure. It didn’t help knowing I would have to travel without my laptop, any food, or even shampoo and toothpaste, because Israeli authorities forbid Palestinians leaving Gaza from carrying any of these items. I also knew from talking to fellow Gaza residents who had missed out on scholarship opportunities or were prevented from obtaining necessary medical care that Israel could always bar me from leaving at the last moment without offering any reason at all.