Middle East
2:27 pm
Tue August 19, 2014

Blocked At The Border, Gaza Man's Hopes Of Escape Fade

Originally published on Tue August 19, 2014 4:38 pm

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Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Israel says militants in Gaza broke a cease-fire today by launching dozens of rockets into Israel. One landed in the vicinity of Tel Aviv. One injury was reported. Israel launched a series of aerial attacks on Gaza. Gaza officials reported that three Palestinians were killed, including a woman and young girl and 75 people injured. It's unclear if peace talks, which were taking place in Cairo, will resume. Israel's asking for security guarantees and the disarming of Hamas. One key issue for Gazans is freedom of movement.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

That issue, freedom of movement, is the subject of our next story. Residents of Gaza are hemmed in by both Israel and Egypt. At Gaza's southern border, Egypt allows crossings only sporadically. NPR's Philip Reeves visited the town of Rafah and met one man who is trying to get out.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: This is where the Gaza Strip meets Egypt. A warm wind whips up sand and trash. Many buildings around here are scarred by war. Ziad Abu Atahez (ph) is sitting on a cafe terrace, sheltering from the intense heat. Ziad stands out from the other Palestinian men who are here smoking and drinking tea. He's in a spotless, new gray pinstripe suit or, as he calls it, his bride-groom suit. Ziad's wearing his fanciest clothes in this war zone because he's on his way to meet his wife, Rafina (ph). Or at least, that was his plan.

ZIAD ABU ATAHEZ: (Through translator) I'm not asking for much. I'm not going to cause any trouble. This is just a visit to see my family - my cousins, my mother, my wife.

REEVES: We're at the Rafah border crossing on Gaza's southern tip. Rafina, Ziad's wife, has traveled more than 200 miles from Cairo. She's on the other side, waiting for Ziad to come through. Ziad's yearning to see her. He says they've been apart seven months. He's a middle-aged cop with the Palestinian Authority. So he's hardened to conflict. Yet, weeks of war have worn him down.

ATAHEZ: (Through translator) Nowhere feels safe, including my house. The shelling's random. And everyone's afraid that anything could be hit, and the house can collapse on top of you.

REEVES: Ziad hopes to go to Egypt for at least a month. His journey's not going well. This is his second attempt to get out of Gaza in a week. Last time, the Egyptians told him to go away and get more documents. He went away and did that. Now he's been turned away again.

ATAHEZ: (Through translator) Today, the Palestinians didn't let me in. They said my documents are not good enough.

REEVES: Ziad spreads his documents on the table. His mother and his wife are Egyptian. His papers are to support his case for Egyptian residency. He flips open his Palestinian passport and points out the immigration stamps inside. These show he's passed through this same border on five previous occasions before the blockade was tightened. Rafina calls. She's been waiting for him for hours. She wants Ziad to make another attempt to get through the border. Ziad says she's getting mad.

ATAHEZ: (Through translator) She's saying try again. I've said I've tried, but they wouldn't let me through.

REEVES: Ziad's chances depend on whether indirect talks in Egypt between Hamas and Israel go anywhere. Lifting the blockade on Gaza is one of Hamas's main demands. That blockade's mostly imposed by Israel, but here at Rafah, it's by Egypt, whose government is no friend of Hamas, who run Gaza. Rockets and missiles began flying between both sides again today, violating a temporary cease-fire. This doesn't bode well for Ziad's chance of escape - at least, for now. He's worried about what the future holds for Gaza.

ATAHEZ: (Through translator) If things go more wrong and we're back at square one, there will be no hope.

REEVES: Ziad sees being allowed out of Gaza as a fundamental right.

ATAHEZ: (Through translator) As a citizen, I have the right to freedom - the right to come, to go. So when my wife is in Egypt, I should have the right to go and see her.

REEVES: Ziad's cell phone rings again. This time it's a cousin. The cousin is driving an ambulance into Gaza from Egypt and says Rafina's given him even more documents to support Ziad's case to be allowed out. Nut now it's become too late to cross, says Ziad. Rafina will have to go back to Cairo alone. He's off to stay with a relative nearby. Ziad says he'll be back tomorrow.

ATAHEZ: (Through translator) If they need me to get more documents, I'll get them. I'll do anything to go.

REEVES: And if that doesn't work, Ziad says he'll just keep on trying. Philip Reeves, NPR News, Gaza City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.