Reporter's Notebook: Chaos Ensues After Palestinians Blow Up Gaza Blockade

E-mail Mike Tobin

Nobody does chaos like the people in Gaza. I’ve never seen anything like the scene on the no man’s land between Gaza and Egypt called Philadelphi Road. It’s been raining, so the moondust sand that covers the road turned into mud with the consistency of gravy and we’re all ankle deep.

Unfortunately, Palestinians are quite accustomed to misery, so the miserable freezing rain doesn’t seem to dissuade them. They are out here by the thousands. Mothers are towing children and their head-to-toe black habayas are covered with mud. People are hauling cows, camels, goats and sheep across the border from Egypt. I’ve seen lots of people carrying baby goats. They’re cute and too small to walk in the mud.

In the middle of the crush of people, there is a terrific traffic jam. Taxis and tour busses are driving in every direction, causing their own gridlock and giving their horns a workout. Giant trucks are hauling scrap metal scavenged from the Israeli settlements and compressed into blocks. (I’ve heard they are getting a good price in Egypt.) I saw two trucks piled to the tipping point with the piping and scaffolding for a hothouse farm. Clearly it came from the hot houses, which were purchased by outside investment from the Israeli settlers and left behind after Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip.

Well, now the hot houses are somewhere in Egypt. Between all of that there is a gunman, with his AK 47 slung around his back, hanging off a giant Caterpillar front-end loader. The Caterpillar is driving in every direction trying to make a road out of the mud. The pedestrians are missing the blade on the big "cat" by inches, mothers haul their children alongside the heavy equipment, people slip and fall in the mud and yet, I’m unaware of anyone getting injured.

I saw a few brawls break out. It wasn’t barroom machismo, which quickly quiets down. These guys were really angry and went at it. They fell in the gravy and made a fine mess of themselves. One of the fights ended when one of the brawlers took a jar of honey he had just purchased in Egypt and broke it over the other guy’s head. Despite being covered with honey, broken glass and mud, the loser seemed to be all right at the end.

All of the chaos goes back to the Qassam rockets, which are fired out of the Gaza Strip at Israeli towns. Despite an increase in military strikes to stop the rockets, the Qassams flew nearly every day. So, Israel blockaded the crossings into Gaza. The people ran out of gasoline, oil for heating, gas for cooking and diesel for the power plants. (Lots of media reported that they ran out of food. But I was there. The store shelves were full and the UN was handing out food.) Then Palestinians militants blew the wall, which separated Gaza from Egypt. What followed was this torrent of Palestinians flooding into Rafa on a shopping spree.

Many people came with real desperation and need. I saw lots of people carrying back medical supplies to which they didn’t have access in Gaza. Others were hoarding supplies, as if they’d entered a Sam’s Club with camels and goats in it. Some Palestinians were souvenir hunting: they bought tropical birds and ultimately stripped the store shelves clean. I got the impression that even more were crossing just out of boredom. Many people born in Gaza have never been out of that little strip of land. Getting to Egypt was a big thrill for them.

Now, getting all the Gazans back into Gaza is going to be like getting toothpaste back into the tube. Truckloads of Egyptian Police officers are in Rafah, decked out in their riot gear, ready to clear the streets. Hamas also has a force on the Gaza side of the border. The weather has been very cooperative for them. I think the Egyptians, in particular, are quite happy with this freezing rain. If the Gazans get cold and wet in Rafah and realize there is nothing left to buy, they’ll go home — or so the Egyptians hope. That should minimize the conflict when it comes time to re-seal the border.

Meantime, the politicians are looking toward a long-term solution, including operation of a regulated, legal border crossing. Israel and Egypt have agreed that the Palestinian Authority (PA) should operate the crossing. However, in today’s world, the PA means the chief rivals of Hamas: Palestinians President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party. Hamas runs the Gaza Strip. You can’t operate anything there without agreeing or conflicting with Hamas.

We’ve seen what happens when Fatah conflicts with Hamas: Fatah loses.

On Wednesday, President Abbas is headed to Cairo for talks with the Egyptians. So is Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar. As of this writing, the two are not scheduled to meet. The Egyptians will act as go-betweens. And we’ll see if they can agree on something that brings a resolution to this round of chaos.

E-mail Mike Tobin

Mike Tobin is a Jerusalem-based reporter for FOX News Channel.

Michael Tobin joined FOX News Channel (FNC) in 2001 and currently serves as a Chicago-based correspondent.