There is no end in sight to the occupation.
Arij, a student, picks her way past the fetid rubbish by the wall as she returns to East Jerusalem from Birzeit University, a commute of two-and-a-half hours each way. She does not speak Hebrew, so could not go to an Israeli university. “I don’t know any Jews. I am not ready to make friends with them,” she says. Most Israelis are not interested either. The Arabic that they are usually taught is a pidgin designed for places like Kalandia, with phrases in the imperative: “Jib al-hawiya” (give me your ID).
ISRAEL, THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY and Hamas may be bitter rivals, but they all agree on one thing: the Erez border crossing between Gaza and Israel, for the lucky few allowed to use it, is a prime opportunity to recruit spies. At the Israeli terminal a poster showing a handshake offers the “Chance of Your Lifetime” to Palestinians willing to provide information on militants. Beyond a buffer zone, at the PA and Hamas posts, murals warn Palestinians against betraying the homeland.
Erez marks one of the world’s strangest frontiers, separating the lush fields of Israeli kibbutzim from the free-fire zones, rubble and chaos of Gaza — a territory that is neither a state, nor an autonomous domain of the PA, nor even a fully occupied territory after Israel pulled out in 2005. Instead it is a large detention camp, guarded from without by Israeli forces (and by Egyptian troops), and from within by Hamas, the strongest of the armed gangs, which pushed out the PA in 2007. The PA’s border post provides a convenient buffer between Israel and Hamas.
The façade of the Israeli terminal masks a surreal automated facility. No Israeli is in sight as Palestinians emerging from Gaza make their way through remote-controlled gates and scanners. Commands are barked through distorted tannoys, or made with obscure hand signals from behind the blast-proof window of a control room high above.
Since the Israelis left, Israel and Hamas have engaged in four major rounds of fighting and endless smaller clashes. Everybody expects another war, though few seem to want it. The Shujaiya neighbourhood, pounded to rubble in 2014, is being rebuilt with scarce materials from charitable donations or, for those who can afford it, the black market. The liveliest bit of Gaza’s economy is the recycling of war rubble. Electricity is intermittent, and clean water is in short supply.
Majed al-Heisso, a father of six, makes a living from occasional but dangerous work tilling fields nearby. In the game of Gazan roulette, those recognised by Israeli spotters as regular farmers are allowed to work land close to Israel’s buffer zone; others risk being shot. Hamas is keeping a ceasefire, but struggles to stop smaller Salafist factions from using places like Shujaiya to launch rockets at Israel. Residents flee to escape Israeli retaliatory fire. “There is firing every day. I want it to end. We don’t want any more wars. The children have nightmares every day,” says Mr Heisso. “The militants fire rockets, get paid and have happy lives. We are the victims.”