Tunneling for love: bride smuggled to Gaza
On New Year's Eve Gaza marked the first anniversary since the Israeli offensive which left over one thousand Palestinians dead.
With the intense hostilities seemingly over, it's the blockade imposed by Israel that sparks protests around the globe.
And now comes a modern day Romeo and Juliet love story with a Palestinian/Israeli twist. He lived in Gaza, she in the West Bank. Their virtual romance blossomed through the Internet, via e-mail and by telephone. But the lovers were prevented from ever meeting one another by a political situation out of their control
Mohammed Warda, the groom, told RT “We asked the Israeli authorities repeatedly to let my fiancée move to Gaza. But our requests were always turned down. So I eventually suggested to her that she travel to Egypt and from there, through the tunnels to Gaza.”
It was a dangerous decision that his fiancée, May, knew could cost her life. First of all, there were the Egyptian border guards who were trying to destroy the tunnels by throwing gas grenades down the shafts and Israeli warplanes also sporadically struck to stem the illegal flow of weapons. Also, dozens of tunnel workers had been killed in recent months. And then there was the danger that the tunnel could simply collapse. May had to crawl for 500 meters, keeping her eyes closed because of the sand that trickled from the roof.
“In the tunnel, you crawl on your belly. It is narrow, there is no room for standing or walking,” recalls the ‘tunnel bride’, May Warda. “You cannot even raise your head. The air inside is very moist. I was scared out of my wits, particularly when I kept thinking that it might collapse at any moment.”
The first time Mohammed saw his bride she was covered in sand. It had taken her four days and thousands of kilometers to travel to him. It was costly, especially in a place where unemployment is high and the average income is two dollars a day.
“I paid nearly $US 1,500 for her tunnel passage,” states Mohammed Warda. “Her travel from the West Bank to Egypt cost another $US 1,000, and this is over and above the bridal-money and other expenses.”
Gaza has been sealed off by an Israeli blockade ever since the radical Islamist group Hamas came to power in 2007. One and a half million people live there, in one of the most densely populated areas in the world. The tunnels provide a lifeline with the outside world. And in this case, they gave a young couple a chance at happiness. But their next chapter looks bleak. They belong to neither a nation nor state and are victims of both internal Palestinian rivalries and the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israel says it has no choice but to maintain a strong siege on Gaza, and with the recent announcement by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas that he will not be standing in January’s presidential elections, prospects for peace and the lifting of the siege are further away than ever.