Six weeks ago my colleagues and I from the Catholic Worker attempted to cross into Gaza, but we were not allowed through. We carried with us six large suitcases containing $18,000 worth of medical supplies destined for Al Shifa Hospital, as well as letters, drawings and toys sent by American children for the orphans at the Rachel Corrie Center in Rafah. Friends on the other side of the wall waited in vain for three days for us to arrive.
The border to Gaza, an area of 140 square miles, is sealed by a formidable Israeli wall on land, an Israeli naval blockade by sea and the Israeli air force overhead. The vast majority of Gaza's inhabitants are unable to leave or enter Gaza via the only openings, the Erez crossing to Israel or the Rafah crossing to Egypt. In addition, authorities at both crossings have placed restrictions on food, medicine and other supplies entering Gaza.
On December 27th, the Israeli military launched a 22-day assault against the people of Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of 1,314 Palestinians. Over 5000 were wounded, 100,000 displaced and 15,000 homes damaged or destroyed. Public infrastructure and utilities were severely damaged. After two days spent at the border, receiving conflicting messages about the entrance process, it became clear that authorities did not want us to see the extent of the damage inflicted on Gaza by Israel. In an attempt to open the border, we used our most powerful method of persuasion: prayer. We knelt hourly in front of the closed border and prayed aloud the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary for the 1.5 million people living in Gaza.
Though our prayer did not immediately open the border, it had an effect. An Egyptian guard told us that he was so moved by our witness, he began to pray with us. Our team managed to get the medical supplies into the hands of friends who ultimately got them through. And, on the weekend of May 16-17, the Rafah border was opened for several hundred Palestinians. We do not discount our prayers in these small victories.
Later, our team traveled to Sderot, the Israeli city most affected by rocket fire from Hamas—up to 30 rockets a day. We visited the family of Or Adam, husband and father of three, whose home was hit by a rocket in February 2008, nearly killing his 14 year-old daughter. His youngest, Bar, had to see a psychologist for a year because of the event’s traumatic impact. Nonetheless, Adam told us, upon hearing a nearby explosion from an Israeli bomb on Gaza, Bar thoughtfully questioned, “Why would we want to do that to them? That will only make them want to send more rockets here.”
Nomika Zion, founder of a kibbutz in Sderot and co-founder of “Another Voice,” a group of residents from the surrounding area who call for alternative approaches to the Gaza conflict, described to us the fear and stress she experiences on a daily basis. During last year’s six-month ceasefire, Zion said, she finally had felt safe; it was the first time her government had tried to protect her.
Zion and other members of “Another Voice” speak to Gazans on the phone every week. Despite her own difficult situation, Zion said, “I can’t even begin to compare our suffering to that of the Gazans…the people of Israel don’t understand what it means to be living in the biggest ghetto in the world.” Amidst the recent assault, Zion wrote an article in which she chastised her government: “The bloodbath in Gaza is not in my name nor for my security.” She received many positive responses to the article, which she said made her realize, “I was not the only voice.”
Upon leaving for my trip, a friend wrote, “May the barriers to your entry fall like the walls of Jericho—by the power God's mighty hand and the love of Jesus.” Our group didn’t bring the wall tumbling down, but we have faith that our action was a link in a chain of actions that will chip away at the foundation of injustice that upholds it.