August 29, 2009

Love Story from Gaza

Romance outlives Israeli blockade of Gaza
by Fares Akram

For Hamoudi Gharib, time ticked too slowly on a June day as he was waiting for his Canadian would-be wife to cross into the besiege Gaza, nearly eight years after they first met over the internet.

He strolled back and forth at the Gaza border, hard to cover up the longing and strain that hit him when he was about to meet his fiancee Linda Todd, who took the adventure into Gaza by joining a group of international campaigners on a lifesaving mission.

"It was overwhelming, I can't describe it," the Gaza journalist said about his feeling at that moment. "I was happy and nervous all at the same time. I was feeling my destiny was three seconds away."

"My dream was becoming more and more real as the bus approached," he added.

Finally, the bus appeared driving from the Egyptian side and the once-very-active Hamoudi froze in his place, looking at the activists stepping out one by one.

When he saw Linda, he rushed and hugged her with the eyes of Hamas security men gazing in wonder.

Her colleagues applauded and cheered joyfully before the press men turned their cameras to Hamoudi and let his story hit the headlines, predominating over the news of the pro-Palestinian delegation that came in solidarity with the Gaza Strip.

Hamoudi's story goes back to the year of 2001 when the couple met on the internet and started chatting on-line for several hours each day, trying to know more about each other's worlds which were quite different.

"I loved that person for caring so much about me," Hamoudi said, speaking about how an ordinary chat conversation developed into a love story. "Two nights after we met, she called me and we talked over the phone for hours," he recalled.

Being a Gaza resident, it means traveling out from Gaza requires clearance from Israel, the Palestinian National Authority(PNA), Egypt and finally Hamas, the Islamic movement which seized control of the coastal enclave in the summer of 2007.

And for Linda, entering Gaza was not easy either.

"Every time we would think that maybe this time we got together either there was something wrong on my side, or suddenly the borders were closed, or suddenly there was something going on like too much violence," the new bride said in an interview at her husband's family house.

Linda joined an international delegation called Code Pink which, after four months of preparations, decided to visit Gaza after Israel ended its three-week major military offensive against the blockaded coastal territory in January.

The peace mission was miraculously permitted to enter Gaza through Rafah crossing on the border with Egypt.

Linda's friends said seeing the two united and married made them forget all the hard times they experienced during their trip, especially the three-day waiting in Egypt.

The newly wed are now happily living together in Gaza spending their honeymoon in the Gaza City that has been experiencing the most tragic and unprecedented ordeal in its history.

"Patience had been the biggest lesson," Linda said.

But the happy life the two are living now is mixed with worry about separation. Linda, who took a vacation from her work, has to go back to Canada and Hamoudi will "most probably try to follow her," she said.

Since Gaza blockade has been tightened by time, Hamoudi is afraid it will take him years to rejoin with his wife, but the couple are determined to overcome the siege. "We promised each other not to give in under any circumstance."

Travel restriction on the Gazans was first applied at the beginning of the Palestinian intifada (uprising) in 2000. But it started to take the toll on the public in 2006 when Hamas captured an Israeli soldier in a cross-border raid near Gaza.

Israel ended its occupation of Gaza in 2005 and withdrew from settlements, handing it over to native Palestinians. In June 2007,Hamas militants, which rejects peace with Israel, wrested control of the territory from the Fatah group which is seeking a peace deal with the Jewish state.

As a result, Egypt and Israel maintained a full closure of their borders with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Egypt opens Rafah crossing point, Gaza's only gateway bypassing Israel to the outside world, for humanitarian cases for two days per month. Hundreds of Gazans have died due to the siege over the past couple of years.

Prospects of lifting the Israeli embargo hinge on healing the Palestinian split between Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatahparty, but so far talks towards this goal have made no substantial progress.

Egypt said it would open Rafah crossing regularly if the Palestinian groups reconciled through a Cairo-hosted dialogue, but recent gun battles in the West Bank between Hamas and Palestinian security forces loyal to Abbas fueled speculations that the dialogue was not going to succeed.

Editor: Yan
Source 2009-06-05