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Culture shocking

It was a strangely uneventful journey from Gaza to London. At the Erez border crossing my luggage was searched by Israeli police, after which the border guards interviewed me briefly, then made me wait for two hours while they decided whether or not to let me into Israel. Eventually they said they would allow me to enter, but only because I had a flight from Ben Gurion airport to London. By then I was running very late for my flight, and the Palestinian taxi driver who had been patiently waiting for me outside Erez sped towards the airport. ‘They used to let foreigners through [Erez] quite quickly’ he said, overtaking a whole line of cars. ‘But these days they even make it hard for you internationals to get in and out of Gaza.’

At Ben Gurion I answered the same questions about why I went to Gaza and what I did there and who I knew. I hoisted my luggage onto the inspection trestle, had my possessions examined for explosives, and x-rayed, and was then escorted to a private cubicle for a metal detector test to see whether I was carrying explosives on my body. I am used to these tedious questions and invasions of my privacy by now. I know that Israel has genuine concerns about attacks by terrorists, and I also know that for many Israelis anyone who has been to Palestine, especially Gaza, is a de facto potential terrorist. Palestinians from Gaza are not permitted to travel via Ben Gurion airport: they have to drive across the border to Jordan and fly from Amman instead.

‘Have you ever been to Gaza?’ I asked the young Israeli security officer who was escorting me to the metal detector cubicle. She laughed without humour. ‘Why would I go there?’ She said. ‘I don’t want to be killed!’

‘Palestinians think Israelis want to kill them too’ I said. ‘That’s the whole problem.’ We paused just outside the cubicle and looked at each other.

‘We don’t want to kill them’ she replied. ‘But sometimes we have to.’

The fear that Israelis and Palestinians have of each other has, in the almost two years I’ve lived in Palestine, only deepened. Politically it makes me feel cynical, while personally it makes me feel depressed. Both peoples deserve better. I passed the metal detector test, was escorted to the plane, and four hours or so later found myself at Heathrow airport, tired, dazed, and slightly drunk from the free in-flight wine. I stood at arrivals with my suitcase and bags, waiting for Gerry to pick me up, and realized my life in Gaza was suddenly over. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry, or both.     

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