In Gaza — or the biggest prison, as its people like to call it — one can see signs of frustration and despair in every corner, since leaving or returning is forbidden, except with the permission of either the Egyptians or the Israelis.
Gaza has two main border crossings for travelers: the Egyptian Rafah gate and the Israeli Erez terminal. At Rafah, only those with permission to receive medical care outside and travelers (mostly students) who have managed to obtain foreign visas are allowed to leave, said Maher Abu Sabha, director of crossings in the Hamas government.
At Erez, the situation is no better. As one friend, Sarah, explained after she lost a chance to participate in a translation workshop in Jordan: “Despite the fact that I had permission from Jordan, I was denied permission from Israeli authorities to travel because they said I was not a humanitarian case.”
Albaz, 18, lives in a refugee camp in southern Gaza and has dreams of pursuing his studies abroad. He borrowed money to be able to take the required tests, such as the TOEFL and SAT.
“My hard work paid off, and I earned a scholarship to an American honors college in Dubai,” he says. “Although it’s not a full scholarship, I wrote letters asking supporters to fund me and I just barely managed it. I applied for my visa, and finally got after 85 days. Other students going to the same country but who live outside of Gaza got their visas in just four days.”
However, even after getting his visa, there were more obstacles to come. Although he obtained permission to enter Jordan, from which he planned to fly to Dubai, he still was required to get a permit to cross through Israel on the way there – a process that typically takes three weeks – if it’s successful. Time was passing, and he was dangerously close to the start of classes. Most students in Mohammed’s school had already arrived on Aug. 15. Spending a couple of nights at the crossing point was an ultimate torture for him. “It made me realize that I am not the only case; I saw hopes being crashed in the solid rock of our harsh reality and mine was next.”
Albaz’s school cooperated with him as much as it could, since the administrators knew what he faced. However, classes have started now, and Albaz realizes he may have to start all over and apply again next year. His college may give him another chance next year, but acceptance again is far from certain; there are no promises.
“Maybe it’s better not to dream,” Albaz says. “That’s better than seeing your plans get smashed into pieces.”
Albaz still has a sliver of hope. Others do not. Alzray, 23, is a recent graduate with honours in English language and education. “I, living in a refugee camp, am the oldest of seven girls and also have a young brother. My family is typically Gazan; my father’s monthly paycheck runs out in the middle of the month. We barely managed to fulfill the demands of Ramadan and university. My family supported my quest to study outside, since they believe I will set the path for my siblings.”
For Alzray, of all the challenges she has faced in the Gaza Strip, the Rafah crossing is definitely the worst.
Alzray was accepted by the University of Edinburgh but did not receive the necessary funding. She also received an offer from Trent University to study theory, culture and politics. “I was granted nearly 62,000 Canadian dollars from the Daughters for Life Foundation and Trent University to cover my two of years study. Applying to both Edinburgh and Trent was not easy.”
Alzray tried to submit her visa application online, since she could not reach the Canadian embassy in Cairo due to the closing of Rafah in the wake of Egypt’s political strife. “The requirement that held me back, however, was the fee of 125 Canadian dollars. I contacted the people in charge of the scholarship and they kindly paid the necessary fees from Canada and sent me the receipt by email.”
Unfortunately, the program on which the online application process was based experienced an internal server failure and submission stalled. There seemed to be no solution.
“My first semester at Trent started at the beginning of September and I could not get there on time. Yet, I have not lost hope,” says Alzray, who has received some of the best grades and test scores in Gaza. “My application to Edinburgh has been pushed to next year, and I am currently applying to Oxford University and the University of Cambridge as well. Next year, I am determined to be in Britain. I will have a pocket full of money and I will hold my head up high. I will be happy, and so will my parents. In 10 years, I will be telling my children this story and laugh at the hard times.”
It is this spirit that will be needed for hope to stay alive in Gaza. But there is a point when everyone breaks. When will it come for us?