January 13th, 2009
09:11 AM ET

Getting aid into Gaza: Crossing the border

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/13/nelson_gaza_aid1.jpg caption="Mercy Corps workers loading trucks with food and medical supplies."]

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/01/13/nelson_gaza_aid3.jpg caption="Mercy Corps workers preparing vehicles with humanitarian aid for delivery into Gaza."]

Cassandra Nelson
Mercy Corps



I fought off my jet lag and drove south to the Gaza border with our Mercy Corps truck filled with desperately needed food aid.

Last week, the Israeli authorities announced there will be a daily three-hour ceasefire to allow aid organizations to move throughout the Gaza Strip, but we are still not very optimistic about it solving the problems. We’re still dealing with the same bureaucratic and twisted approval process for getting aid across the check point and into Gaza. The temporary 3-hour ceasefire is totally insufficient and only deals with aid delivery issues for items that are already inside Gaza. It does not help us get more aid into the territory in any way. The entire Israeli approval system must be improved so that we can get trucks to Gaza in less than a week.

One day last week, when we reached the Kerem Shalom border at about 9 AM there was a line of about 25 trucks waiting at the border for entry. After about a one-hour wait, the Israeli customs officials inspected the delivery and paperwork and asked several questions about where we bought our supplies.

The Mercy Corps vehicle was admitted into the unloading compound with several other aid trucks—all from various UN branches. The contents of the delivery were all on pallets that made unloading extremely easy with the assistance of a fork list.

After all the items were removed from the truck and placed on the pavement of the compound the security check began. Sniffing dogs were released to check the material. Next an Israeli border worker probed and stabbed every package with a long metal rod to check if anything might be hidden inside. I am assuming they were looking for stowaways among the rice bags, but I can’t imagine who would really be trying to get into Gaza when most people there would do anything to escape the constant shelling and bombing.

After the checks were completed all the Israeli workers and other observers and monitors were told to exit back to the Israel side of the border. Once the compound was empty of all people, the gates on the Israeli side were slammed shut.

Next, the gates on the Gaza side of the compound were opened, allowing the Palestinians to enter the compound and collect the delivery with their trucks. No trucks were allowed to drive from the Israeli side to the Gaza side. Everything was offloaded from the trucks on the Israel side and then reloaded onto different trucks on the Gaza side.

Israeli guards said that at no point in the process were Israelis and Palestinians from the Gaza side allowed to meet each other. I stood at the gate—on the Israeli side—and peered through the slats to watch the Palestinians load up our delivery.

When the transfer of aid was finished, I was relieved. We had finally made the delivery after so much work and our Gaza staff had received the items to distribute. But I had a lingering sadness knowing that the Gazans and the Israelis never came face-to-face at this border check. It makes me wonder how peace can be achieved when all humanity seemed to be absent.

Click here to access Cassandra Nelson's earlier blog posts.

Editor’s Note: Cassandra Nelson joined Mercy Corps in Afghanistan in 2002. She spends most of her time deployed in hotspots and hostile areas in need of humanitarian assistance. She has worked in Iraq, Darfur, Lebanon, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, Liberia, North Korea, Sri Lanka, Banda Aceh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran.

Filed under: Crisis in Gaza • Israel • Palestine
soundoff (2 Responses)
  1. Cori from Colorado

    Wow, the courage it takes to put yourself into a situation, like delivering supplies during a 3 hour cease fire, is scary. Bravo, and congratulations on being able to accomplish your delivery. I just hope the supplies get to the people needing it most.

    January 13, 2009 at 12:08 pm |
  2. Michelle

    The civilians on both sides are victims.Jon Stewart is getting
    props for mocking American coverage of the conflict and the
    are songs all over You Tube for the people of Gaza. Lets hope
    the incoming Obama administration will work tirelessly to resolve
    the situation . There are countless pictures and video out of Gaza
    making its way to the internet. A lot of people think the Israelis are
    using a burn agent on civilians.

    January 13, 2009 at 11:16 am |