Since Sunday, Egypt has opened the only border the Gaza Strip shares with a country other than Israel. Busloads of people have been crossing in and out of Gaza, which has been blockaded by Israel since Hamas took control there more than two years ago.
More than 200 trucks carrying medical aid have arrived in Egypt, destined for the Gaza Strip. Busloads of people have been crossing in and out of Gaza since Sunday.
The movement is the result of a rare opening by Egypt of the only border Gaza shares with a country other than Israel, which has kept a tight blockade on the Palestinian territory since Hamas took control there more than two years ago.
Egypt's border policy with Gaza is a source of deep frustration and anger in the Arab world, where many say Egypt is not doing enough to help the Palestinians trapped in Gaza. Egypt maintains that it has treaty obligations to live up to, as well as protecting the integrity of its borders.
But Gaza residents such as 79-year-old Youssef Mohammed see the border policy as punishment by their Arab neighbor to the south. He came to Egypt to visit his children and had to wait five months until he could finally get back home to Gaza City Monday.
Sitting in the front row of an idling Egyptian bus set to travel through the Rafah border crossing, he says there is no reason Egypt couldn't make this routine.
"They should just open the border, it's choking us. Look, we're married to Egyptians and Egyptians are married to Gazans. They should open it," he says.
Egyptian police thoroughly check every passenger's documents, and one elderly woman is hustled off the bus, gesturing and complaining to no avail. She stands outside the tall black iron gates of the border, arguing with a guard who wants to see a travel document she doesn't have, while the bus she was just ejected from goes through into the no-man's land dividing Egypt from Gaza.
"You're Egyptian?" asks the guard.
"Yes," says 64-year-old Zeinab Attiya, who got up at 3 a.m. Monday morning to travel from Helwan, south of Cairo, to the border.
"My three children and 11 grandchildren live over there in Gaza," she adds," and I haven't seen them in seven years."
These are the stories that so often go unheard amid the debate over the continuing though sporadic Palestinian rocket fire and Israeli military strikes, and concern about Hamas' efforts to re-arm via underground smuggling tunnels on the border.
Palestinian and Egyptian families joined by intermarriage remain divided; parents don't see their children grow up and may never know their grandchildren. And the Palestinian and Egyptian sides of Rafah, sundered by walls, military patrols and Israeli drones, is on one side brutally impoverished, and on the other plagued by a rising criminal class that has grown out of the booming smuggling operations.
When help does arrive for Gaza, it often takes the form of well-meaning international activists who bring in truckloads of aid that is rarely followed by any sustained effort to lift the blockade.
The leaders of the Viva Palestina convoy completed their journey from Britain to the Gaza border Monday after a number of setbacks, chiefly Egypt's refusal to permit the trucks to travel overland across the Sinai Peninsula.
The group's most well-known member, the outspoken Scottish Member of Parliament George Galloway, was diplomatic upon his arrival, thanking Egypt for eventually permitting more than 200 truckloads of aid into Gaza.
He was also realistic enough to point out that the attention generated by this type of humanitarian activism is only really useful if it generates pressure on political leaders to spend more time and effort solving the underlying problem.
"But these convoys, whilst important for a whole number of reasons, are not a substitute for lifting the siege in Gaza. No amount of convoys can be more than a drop in the ocean of the troubles which the people of Gaza are suffering," Galloway said.
But with no apparent progress toward a permanent lifting of the siege of Gaza, Palestinians say they are afraid the best they can hope for is more brief border openings from Egypt — not a sigh of relief, but the hiss of a safety valve. Copyright 2010 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.