A long, caged walkway leading from the last Hamas checkpoint to the Israeli border compound gives the feeling that you’re entering a maximum security prison. As I was walking, wearing a flak jacket and carrying all my gear, I could hear the booms of Israeli strikes, fired from close by, and the sounds of outgoing Hamas rockets aimed at where I was heading.
On one side is impoverished, underdeveloped Gaza, with a crushing unemployment rate, salty tap water, and war-rocked slums. On the other side is Israel, with paved roads, $7 coffees at chic cafes, and working traffic lights. The contrast between the two places is obvious, and impossible to ignore.
Hamas closed the border for most of the past two days, due to Israeli strikes on the checkpoint and surrounding area. Because of the border closure, some Palestinians seeking medical treatment in Gaza, as well as journalists, could not leave Gaza. On most days, Palestinians are denied entry by Israel, and most Israelis are not allowed to enter Gaza. Rockets have frequently been fired at Israel from areas close to the Hamas checkpoints. Today, Hamas opened the border for two hours, so I rushed to get across.
After a week reporting in Gaza, I crossed into Israel through the Erez border. I was, for an unnerving amount of time, quite literally stuck between Gaza and Israel, as the Israeli checkpoint would not open its metal doors during the cross-border fighting. There was nowhere safe to hide. The trip, most of which was spent waiting just outside of the doors leading to Israel’s checkpoint reading “Welcome to Israel,” took three hours.
On the road to the Hamas checkpoints, there is a playground and public park completely destroyed by an Israeli strike, likely because they are open areas where it is easier to launch rockets. A building next to one of the checkpoints is bombed-out. It happened today, Palestinian men at the checkpoint said.
After a week of documenting death in Gaza, now well over 200, most of whom were civilians, I hopped in a car en route to the funeral of the first Israeli killed — a man who had been handing out food to Israeli soldiers manning that very same border crossing.
Video Sophia made at the Erez border crossing on Wednesday: