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A Taste of Freedom

By Mohammed Omer, reporting from Rafah

27/01/08 "
ICH"  -- - “I finally taste freedom now–at least a temporary freedom of movement,” a 32 year old Gazan man rejoiced, the Gaza-Egypt border newly opened. Thousands climbed over Israel’s downed Wall, a Wall which encompasses and contains the Gaza Strip. The hungry, assaulted, and ignored crowds clamoured into Egypt to stock up on daily goods, basic foods, and medical supplies.

In Rafah, crucial shipments of daily living necessities including even packages of cement, spare auto and vital machine parts and fuel, flowed from Egypt into Gaza across a border rendered wide-open since Wednesday. Early Wednesday, militants blew down portions of the concrete and steel wall, allowing hundreds of thousands of Gazans, many caged-in for nearly 18 months, to stream into Egypt for shopping and a luxurious whiff of freedom.

Egyptian border security guards initially simply stood by as huge crowds surged into Egypt, but on Wednesday, they attempted to ease the chaos of traffic, directing the countless pedestrians, donkey carts and bicycles.

24 Hours Awake!

Rafah has been awake 24 hours a day lately, a new phenomenon: usually by sunset people are home, hoping to avoid being targeted by Israeli attacks. In a border town such as Rafah, in southern Gaza, security is risky, to say the least, after sundown. Yet now, masses –hundreds of thousands!!—of people choose to go shopping even in the middle of the night. If not shopping, then people meander to “breathe fresh air,” as one young man replied, en route home with cheese and milk.

Israel declared it would not send emergency shipments of fuel into Gaza on Thursday as it had initially promised earlier in the week. The fuel is vital to running Gaza’s main power plant, shut down last week after Israel imposed a complete closure on Gaza in what Israel says was a response to the launching of home-made rockets towards Israel.

With the newly-opened border, Israeli officials have said that as long as Gazans are getting supplies through Egypt there is no need for Israel to send shipments. This step is seen by people around the world as Israel’s sneaky way of relinquishing responsibility for 1.5 million Gazans, in a region which until 2005 Israel occupied, but which even now many contend Israel continues to militarily occupy.

The spokesman of Hamas has denied involvement in having blasted holes in the border. Hamas says, however, that it the prison break is a ‘normal reaction’ from a population which has been increasingly starving, dying, and destitute since Israel imposed its blockade. The closures, which were tightened after Hamas took control over Gaza last June 2007, have led to internationally-recognized severe shortages of food supplies, drinkable water, cement, fuel and electricity necessary for medical and daily functions, as well as cigarettes and many other basic things. Something as simple as candles has become an impossible luxury in Gaza’s markets.

As I write now, Gaza rejoices, enjoying a moment of fresh air, a brief, and unusual, respite, from the near-daily Israeli attacks resulting in Gaza civilian bloodshed. But despite the joy from the open border and the vital goods which can be bought in Egypt, tragedy remains in Gaza: late Thursday night and early Friday morning, Israeli warplanes killed four more Palestinians in the on-going assault on Gaza which has seen 68 killed and over 165 wounded in just the first weeks of January alone. Gaza, as the world, watches with apprehension to see how Israel will react to the act of basic human desperation and frustration which led to breaking down the Wall last Wednesday.

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