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Sunday, 2 June, 2002, 09:00 GMT 10:00 UK
Fenced off in Gaza
Vehicles queue at Israeli checkpoint inside Gaza
Israel says restrictions are necessary security steps
Caroline Hawley

The line stretches as far as the eye can see, a never-ending column of cars snaking through the sand in the baking midday sun.

Many here have waited for as long as 36 hours to cross the Israeli army checkpoint which cuts the north of the Gaza Strip from the south.

I feel trapped, as if I'm in prison

Nicola Fanous
German-born resident of Gaza

Young and old, they have slept in their seats or in the sand beside their cars.

An elderly woman from Rafah had a heart attack at the Abu Holi checkpoint; a pregnant woman gave birth to a baby that died.

For Gazans, the checkpoint is a symbol of the bitter humiliation of the Israeli occupation.

Students, truck drivers, civil servants all wait for hour after hour, as the Israeli army closes off the main north-south road whenever a Jewish settler living in Gush Katif, a block of seaside settlements, wants to pass.

"I can't bear it anymore," said 52-year old Saliya, her eyes red with tears.

"I have diabetes and high blood pressure and I've been here since yesterday, squashed with all the men in this crowded taxi with nowhere to go to the toilet."

The restrictions - which Israeli officials describe as necessary security measures - are devastating the Palestinian economy and feeding deep and dangerous frustrations.

Kept apart

"This is one of the biggest oppressions of the occupation," says a 22-year-old student at the Islamic University in Gaza City, playing cards with a group of friends in the sand as he waits to cross the checkpoint.

"It's a thousand times better to go to Israel and blow yourself up and go to heaven than living like this."

Palestinian boys near the checkpoint
The tight controls are breeding resentment
To thwart would-be suicide bombers, Israel has sealed off Gaza with fences and checkpoints, locking the Palestinians in.

Since the beginning of the uprising in September 2000, Gazans have not been allowed to travel to the West Bank.

"I haven't seen my students in 20 months," says Ziad Abu Amar, a professor at the West Bank university of Birzeit and a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, which has not convened properly in months.

"Now we can't even hold sessions through video-conferencing because members from the West Bank can't meet in one place any more," Mr Abu Amar says.

"These movement restrictions are hindering our work in the Legislative Council and undermining our efforts to nourish a democratic process here."

They are also affecting Ziad Abu Amar's personal life, preventing him from seeing his two daughters who live in the West Bank.

No exceptions

Even foreign women married to Palestinians, who have residency in Gaza, have now found themselves confined to the tiny, impoverished territory.

"I feel trapped, as if I'm in prison," says Nicola Fanous, a German who met her Gaza-born husband in Berlin in the 1980s.

Man shelters from sun in concrete pipe
Some wait for more than a day to cross the border
The couple settled in Gaza after the 1993 peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinians.

Nicola, who works for the United Nations, wants to visit friends and relatives back home.

But Israel, which last year destroyed the radar at Gaza airport and dug up its runway, will not let the German passport-holder cross into Israeli territory to fly out.

She says the authorities have informed the German Embassy that she is not "an urgent humanitarian case".

Nicola believes there are hundreds of women like her - married to Palestinians in Gaza and now subjected to the same restrictions as them.

"There's nothing here but home and work and work and home," she says.

"It's depressing enough without knowing that you can't leave."

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See also:

14 May 02 | Middle East
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27 Apr 02 | Middle East
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