Crossing one of the most dangerous intersections in the world

The Israeli border officers needed to determine whether to send the mother and baby back, knowing the baby would likely die without humanitarian medical access, but also knowing that this woman may have been complicit in Hamas terror activity.

Pictures of the Erez crossing are not allowed inside, only outside.

I never thought I’d be stuck in the middle of one of the biggest conflicts in the Middle East, but there I was, sitting in a terminal on the Israeli side of the Erez Crossing – the only entrance/exit between Israel and Gaza. 

   Sitting in the front row, I listened to the head of the Israeli border security at the Erez Crossing, Vadin, speak to us in broken English about the struggle and burden of his job. He gave us a rundown of his day so far – keep in mind it was only 2pm. 

  It was a typical morning for him; Vadin was doing a border check of a mother and her baby coming to Israel from Gaza. They were coming to Israel for life-saving medical care for the baby, a very common reason for Gazans to cross the border. When checking her bags, the border officers found something unusual: a bullet in the baby formula. They asked the mother about it, and she broke down in tears, claiming she did not put it there and had no idea. Now Vadin and other officers had to make one of the toughest decisions you could.

  If they denied the mother and her baby access to Israel, the baby would most likely die from not receiving the medical attention it needed. If they let them in, they risked putting other lives in danger because there was no way to know if the woman truly didn’t know about the bullet. The Israeli border officers needed to determine whether to send the mother and baby back, knowing the baby would likely die without humanitarian medical access, but also knowing that this woman may have been complicit in Hamas terror activity.  

  These types of situations happen everyday at the Erez Crossing. The Israelis and Arabs have had disputes over the land since the beginning of time. The Jewish state of Israel was officially established in 1948 after the Israelis won the Six Day War. Just 45 years later, Israel signed the Oslo Accords, agreeing to relinquish control of parts of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. By 2005, Israel had completely withdrawn its settlements in Gaza and the terrorist group Hamas took control of the land. 

  Vadin explained to us that in order to cross the border to Israel, Hamas makes it difficult. They need to get permission from Hamas to leave Gaza, usually arranged by a hefty fee or bribe. Then,because Israel and Gaza have no diplomatic relations, Hamas will contact Fatah in the West Bank, and Fatah will forward the information to Israel. Israel then investigates each individual – running background checks and ensuring that the medial need is real before approving entrance to Israel. When crossing the actual border, Hamas takes bags into another room and searches them. It was determined by the Israeli border officers that the woman truly didn’t know about the bullet and the Hamas had placed it in the formula when they took her bags. Hamas likely did this to test whether it would be a way to smuggle other contraband across the border. Vadin has been doing this for a while now and knows how to recognize true versus fake shock when he tells Gazans about various things they find in their bags. By reading her facial expressions, tears, and shakiness, Vadin knew this woman was not likely involved in Hamas terror activity and allowed her and her baby to cross and receive the medical attention needed. 

  It was surreal to think that an issue like that happened only a few hours ago in the same building I was sitting in, but it was even more surreal to watch a video of the exact place I was sitting being blown up by a rocket. Vadin then pulled up the live surveillance cameras, which were able to zoom into Hamas soldiers miles away. We watched one set a chair down on the side of the road, sit down in it, and then tumble down a hill backwards. He zoomed in on the place where the Hamas fires the rockets from. This sparked a question I’ve been thinking about for a while: if the Israeli army, AKA the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), knows where the rockets are being launched from, why don’t they just blow it up or shoot back?

  Vadin explained that the IDF could easily take Gaza within 20 minutes with their far superior technology and military, but there’s a reason they haven’t. The Israeli army is quite literally called a defense force – Israel will only use violence as a last resort to defend, never to attack. If they won’t attack Gaza itself, why not just attack the people firing the rocket with a sniper? One of the IDF’s policies is that they will never fire at innocent women and children, so when launching a rocket, the Hamas stands around it using women and children as a protective shield because they know the IDF won’t fire. 

  When leaving the Erez Crossing, we were approached by a woman and her son on their way back home to Gaza after a day-trip to Israel. She was a Tunisian born Gazan who worked for a French consultant in Gaza, in part because she grew up speaking French. She was coming back from the French embassy holiday party Jerusalem with her son. Her son had never left Gaza before and was so excited to go to Jerusalem and see all of the people and the Dome of the Rock. The bags were filled with clothes and toys that would most likely be confiscated by Hamas when she would try to re-enter Gaza. 

  Because of her job, she would probably be considered more of an upper-middle class citizen in Gaza. She lives in a house located right outside the city of Gaza and her children attend school everyday, just like us. The brief conversation I had with this mother and her kid helped remind me that the vast majority of those crossing the border are just people going about their daily lives and are not terrorists. 

  Ever since this day, I’ve been wondering about what happened to that mother and her sick baby whose formula was found with a bullet in it. Vadin did tell us they were allowed entrance to Israel, but that’s all they know. I also keep thinking about the smile on the boy’s face and how happy he was after what he described as “the best day of my life” in Jerusalem and at the French embassy holiday party. Moments like these are why the border between Israel and Gaza remains open. Vadin said, “We will never punish innocent citizens for the actions of terrorists they can’t control.”