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Visiting Jerusalem: Would it be a mere dream for Gazans living under the Israeli military siege?

Israeli military occupation has been imposing a harsh siege on the Gaza strip for over a decade now. Gaza residents aren’t allowed to travel to Jerusalem. The occupation also limits passage through the Erez border crossing, which it controls, to a small special category of passengers, including the sick, but with so many restrictions that have reduced access to livelihood, leaving Palestinians locked almost their whole lives inside Gaza strip. 

“I can still remember the smell of its old walls. I can never forget the happiness of praying in Al-Aqsa. The time I spent in that place is a dream that I hope it will repeat itself before death takes me away,” .

Um Ahmed Hijazi, 71 years of old, last saw Al-Aqsa four years ago never to be allowed in again.

Her granddaughter Ala’, 20, said that she has never seen Jerusalem except on social media and TV. she wishes to visit Jerusalem one day and thinks it’s impossible. Almost an entire generation has never seen Jerusalem except on social media and TV, because the Israeli occupation ban stands between them and their yearning for the city, making the visit to it such an impossible dream.

Siege in 365 km2

The Gaza strip, the 365km2 region with over 2 million residents, is an overcrowded enclave area for sure. It has been in a hermetic siege by air, sea, and land for over a decade now. Gaza’s border with Egypt is almost closed most of the time and only opened on rare occasions making travel outside the enclave a hard mission and affecting every aspect of life in Gaza. The tight illegal blockade, in addition to recurrent armed violence and aggressions, today remains the principal cause of the sociological, economic, and psychosocial crisis in Gaza.

Jobs like Fishing are major working sectors that supports tens of families in Gaza. Of course the high unemployment rate has never let other choices for Palestinians with the economy tatters. Many Palestinians work as fishermen who arrive home with almost nothing usually as a result of the fishing access limits imposed by the Israeli authorities on Gaza beach.

Many Palestinians, also, live in makeshift shelters with 4 hours of electricity a day and the lack of potable and non-potable water running. Potable and non-potable water are bought from the tankers which are expensive and not accessible in some cases. Moreover, repairs to water infrastructure in Gaza are delayed, compounded by the fact that several key water, sanitation and hygiene items such as pumps, drilling equipment and disinfectant chemicals are on the Israeli dual-use list, meaning that their entry into Gaza is only permitted selectively. Many affected households have become entirely dependent on water tankers.

And these are just a tip of iceberg. Such hard conditions left Palestinians with so many limited choices, but so many hopes and dreams until those freedom dreams hunted us. We dream of living normally. We dream of a clear calm sky without the sound of the Zannanh (Israeli spy plane), and we dream about Jerusalem.

A siege away

The holy city of Jerusalem is the capital city of Palestine. It is at the core of the west bank and it is the city of the three holy religions; Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Every year, pilgrims and tourists from all over the world either Christians, Jews, or Muslims travel for miles and miles to wander Jerusalem‘s streets. While Jerusalem is only 94.2 km2 away from Gaza, Palestinians from Gaza cannot visit Jerusalem, their capital city, nor can they practice their religious rituals freely. A 94.2 km2 away. 94.2 km2 means almost an hour and a half car road trip! An hour and a half away!

That’s what makes Jerusalem, for Palestinians who live in Gaza, seems very close, geographically,  yet it is also very far away. That’s what makes it an impossible dream for a whole generation that grew up seeing it only on TV.

This absence of physical connection lead Palestinians from Gaza to devise other means by which they consummate their bond with Jerusalem, a spiritual one!

Gifts from Jerusalem are priceless and vulnerable, but among the most precious ones is a picture taken to one’s name written on a piece of paper that says “Al-Aqsa is longing for you” and shows the Al-Aqsa mosque behind indicating the spiritual religious connection despite the siege.

Jerusalem is famous for its delicious Ka’ak, a puffy bread with sesame shaped like a vicious circle, and Malban, a kind of candy that looks like a marshmallow, but has nuts in it. Palestinians from Gaza stuff their luggage bags with those heavenly treats that brings joy to both kids and old people.  

In any other country in the world, it might be strange to see somebody keeping tight hands on this handful of soil, but in Palestine, this is the tradition because this is what we fight for, the soil of this holy land. Gazans take a handful of Jerusalem‘s ground soil and keep it preserved in a nylon bag until they get back home. This soil is planted with olive seeds. This plant then is being cherished carefully with love and with the hope that the next visit a branch of it will be planted in the Al-Aqsa mosque yards.

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