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How one Gaza crossing went from death trap to gate of hope

A decade ago, crossing from Gaza at the Erez checkpoint was a nightmare, but now under Defense Ministry management the once-dangerous crossing offers a model of order and security for West Bank facilities.
A Palestinian from Gaza shakes hands with an Israeli soldier (L) after receiving a greeting card for Eid al-Adha at Israel's Erez Crossing October 5, 2014. In a rare step Israel said on October 2, 2014 it would let 500 Palestinians living in Gaza pray at a Jerusalem holy site during the Eid al-Adha feast at the weekend, and allow Palestinians from the West Bank to enter Israel more freely for the holiday.The Israeli military said that from Oct. 5 through 7 the days of the Muslim feast, 500 Palestinians from
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Tens of thousands of Gaza Strip residents, Palestinians who used to work in Israel, bear scars from the Erez crossing. They used to call it the “barrier of death” because the passage to Israel through the crowded crossing was life threatening. Hundreds required medical treatment after suffocating there or being trampled in the cruel battle for survival at the antiquated, congested security checkpoints. Injuries were par for the course. There isn’t a single Palestinian laborer who traveled from Gaza to work in Israel who has not experienced the travails of this crossing, with its notorious and nightmarish carousels – revolving steel barriers through which they passed to the Israeli side.

More than 10 years ago, I arrived at the Erez crossing with a camera crew. The footage shot that night deeply shocked television viewers and decision-makers in Israel. The film crew and I barely escaped being trampled by the thousands of Palestinians who stormed the revolving turnstiles, rushing not to miss a day of work. We climbed onto the roof of the revolving barrier and the masses charged forward below us. The Israeli soldiers stationed at the facility controlled the barrier by pressing a button, every so often allowing small groups of laborers to push through the narrow passages leading to the turnstiles. Anyone not fast enough to slither through to the other side risked being trapped against the iron rails along the sides of the passageway. Two Palestinians laborers were crushed to death in this manner in 2004. Being stomped on, injured and humiliated was a daily routine for tens of thousands of Gaza residents for whom working in Israel was the only way to make a living.

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