At Gaza border with Egypt, masses make reverse exodus into Sinai
It took seconds for the rumor to travel across the Gaza Strip: The border with Egypt is no more.
It began with a series of blasts across Rafah that rang out at around dawn. Hamas' military wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, detonated some 20 explosive charges attached to the fence separating the Egyptian side of Rafah from the Palestinian half of town. The wall simply collapsed, and it has been allowed to stay that way.
To their surprise, the first border crossers at the site that was once called the Philadelphi route faced no Egyptian security forces after they gingerly crossed over to Egypt. Minutes later, the explosions were reported in the Arab media.
From then on, the word was carried among friends and family. The services of Jawal, the Palestinian cellular company, almost collapsed. The switchboards of the telephone company servicing Rafah couldn't take the surge. Landline numbers were almost impossible to reach.
Meanwhile, the migration of people from all across Gaza to the ruptured border became massive, turning into an exodus. Tens of thousands of Palestinians climbed on buses, taxi cabs, pickup trucks and any other working vehicle (despite the fuel shortage) that would take them to the Egyptian border.
Many of the crossers made the trip to stock up on supplies, mostly cigarettes, which are a rare commodity across Gaza nowadays. They also bought other goods such as livestock, motorcycles, food, fuel and concrete.
Others skipped the shopping spree, opting to visit relatives on the Egyptian side whom they had not seen in months. Some sought medical treatment. Some crossed over with no intention of going back as long as Gaza is under siege.
"The whole Strip in now in Egypt," a Palestinian cabdriver who lives in the city said. By the afternoon, there was a sense that Gaza was emptying its entire human content onto the Sinai. According to reports, more than 200,000 Palestinians had crossed over to Egypt, and proceeded to storm the shops at Rafah and Al-Arish.
"Your army could take the entire Strip in one hour now, if you wanted," Adel observed. "Everyone is having a party in Al-Arish." As the day progressed, bulldozers broadened the holes in the fence and cleared some of the rubble, to ease passage for the masses that had assembled at every breach.
After the bulldozers were done, cars began moving into Egypt from Gaza - for the first time since the now-defunct barrier was put up. But to most car owners, caution dictated parking their vehicles on the Palestinian side. Laden with goods and commodities, they made their way to their cars.
Prices are much cheaper in Egypt than in Rafah, Saud from Khan Yunis told Haaretz. Most commodities are not on sale in Gaza, he added. A goat or a sheep goes for $120 in Egypt. It costs $200 in Gaza.
This naturally meant that in a few hours, Egyptian Rafah and El-Arish were fresh out of just about everything that was on sale. The only thing that remained were vegetables and livestock.
As for the Egyptian security forces, they took pains to refrain from confrontations with the Palestinians ferrying goods to and fro. At first, they rushed to block the traffic of vehicles, before relenting and allowing the few running cars to cross over.
But the Egyptian police did deploy dozens of roadblocks meant to block and isolate the area, so as not to allow the hundreds of thousands of potential immigrants to reach deep into the Sinai Peninsula and Egypt proper.