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Tuesday, 14 May, 2002, 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK
Middle East diary: At the Erez crossing
Palestinian released from the Church of the Nativity at the Erez crossing
Palestinians see Gaza as a vast prison
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Paul Wood
By Paul Wood
BBC Middle East correspondent in Gaza City

On the second day of his diary for BBC News Online, Paul Wood tells of his eventful visit to the Erez checkpoint in Gaza.

From Gaza this morning to the Erez crossing. The Palestinian taxi drops you at the border of no-man's land.

Then a 100-metre walk along the empty road until the Israeli pill-box.

The way is almost always deserted. Only UN workers and journalists use Erez now.
Israeli soldier checks the permit of a taxi driver
There is high security at the Erez crossing

After passing through a metal detector, a hand emerges from a slit in the pill-box to take your passport.

Then another walk lugging bags of equipment to another set of metal detectors and airport style X-ray machines.

High security

All this is one reason why the Palestinians see Gaza as a vast prison. It certainly true that few, if any, suicide bombers have made it out of Gaza.

And Israel's solution to ending the siege at the Church of the Nativity was to send some of the Palestinian militants into internal exile here.

The Palestinians say that in the old days when Erez was busy, the soldiers would send people through narrow metal-fenced channels designed to make it impossible to carry luggage.

Hot and tired, travellers waiting in the long lines would struggle with their heavy bags. The Palestinians feel this was one more calculated humiliation inflicted by the Israelis.

It is quiet today. The young conscripts on the X-ray machines are good-natured.

I remember one and say I am sorry about what happened last time.

Under attack

Three weeks earlier, on what a been a quiet Saturday afternoon, one of these same soldiers had just finished making me switch on my lap-top for a security check when the Erez checkpoint came under fire.

The incoming bullet, something between a whistle and a whisper. Then Israeli M16s, heavy machine guns, cannon, finally tank-shells. Occasionally, again, incoming - a lone Palestinian sniper.

A captain arrives, sweating heavily from the battle, his face drawn with the responsibility of keeping all these kids under his command alive

Two hours on the floor of the back office with some of the soldiers. They have just started their army service.

One of the girls wears non-regulation high-heel trainers with her uniform and screams every time there is a big bang. "It's ours, it's ours," one of the officers tells her each time.

She sits in the lap of her boyfriend and kisses him fiercely in between screaming.


A captain arrives, sweating heavily from the battle, his face drawn with the responsibility of keeping all these kids under his command alive.

He is going to get us out in an armoured jeep. A bored-looking Japanese journalist picks up the suitcase he has been sitting on. The rest of us get up off the floor and gather up our bags.

We get outside. More shooting. Stop, go back, lie down. This happens a couple of times more before we are in the jeep and speeding across the car park.

Everyone is laughing - except the captain. We learn later that one of the soldiers died. They killed the Palestinian sniper too.

Click here for day one
Click here for day three

See also:

12 May 02 | Middle East
Diary of Gaza City life
10 May 02 | Middle East
Gaza gives militants hero's welcome
11 May 02 | Middle East
Arab leaders denounce violence
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