It wasn’t all that bad! Just long. It did involve numerous stages, as anticipated.
Ryan (Gaza Sky Geeks Director) collected us at 6:30am from Jerusalem Hotel and four of us (plus all our bags) piled into his car for the journey down to Gaza. We had a brief stop for some breakfast and coffee in Cup O’Joe, the last cafe in Israel, then Ryan drove us to the border. The place looked like an airport terminal building, albeit surrounded by walls, barbed wire, watch towers, armed soldiers (the usual paraphernalia that characterises Palestine). It was built to be so huge to accommodate the 100s of people who used to cross in and out on a daily basis, before Israel put Gaza firmly on lock-down after Hamas were elected in 2006. There were 24 separate “gates” and only two border control police — testament to how few people cross this border these days.
First up, we traipsed to one booth to collect our Israeli permits to enter Gaza from an Israeli border control guard. Then to a second booth to go through passport control. You went through one gate and there was another gate in front of you, and both were locked while your passport checked, permit stamped, questions asked, Israeli entry visa taken away and replaced with an Israeli exit visa.
Once that was done, it was a walk through a short tunnel (8ft barriers both sides) to a turnstile (hard to manoeuvre with a rucksack and a wheelie suitcase, but not impossible) that brought us out to the loooong walkway connecting the Israeli border control with the Gaza border. I guess this bit in the middle was no man’s land? I’m not sure. The walkway (Elizabeth describes it as a cattle chute — not wholly inaccurate!!) is around 600m long, covered with a corrugate iron roof, and with fences either side. Our luggage went on one motorbike truck thing, and we went on another — I was glad not to walk to be honest, the heat was pretty intense. You could see the huge wall separating Gaza from Israel to your right, and scrubland to your left, with the buildings of Gaza rising up beyond.
This walkway took us through to a little waiting room with a cafe, where Ryan showed our passports to the Palestinian National Authority… they didn’t seem to be bothered about seeing our faces, but mind you, it’s not like we could have been anyone else, having just gone through Israeli security and then through a tunnel from which there is no escape…! This little cafe / waiting room had WiFi which I found quite amusing, because it really felt like we were in the middle of nowhere.
Palestinian National Authority border “check” done and dusted, we got in two taxis with our luggage, and drove a short couple of minutes to the Hamas checkpoint. Our bags went through a scanner but weren’t physically checked… and I’m sure that the guy manning the scanner was checking his Facebook more than the screen… Again, Ryan dealt with our passports, showing them to the Hamas border control, and then we were met by Heba, Mentor Coordinator at Gaza Sky Geeks, who took us to our Mercy Corps car for the drive into Gaza City.
It was about a half hour drive through the Northern bit of Gaza, which is the industrial zone. We passed too many car repair / salvage workshops to count, garages selling tyres, ironmongers, shops selling second hand washing machines and ovens, a fancy wedding dress store… the roads were busy busy busy with cars, motorbikes, falafel stands, the occasional donkey pulling a cart full of produce, and girls walking to school with long green overcoats and white ribbons in their hair.
And then we arrived at Roots Hotel, where the bootcamp is being held! I’ll write about the first day in a separate post…
Originally published at lauraihbennett.com on September 1, 2016.