EREZ CROSSING, at the Israel-Gaza border — At 375,000 square feet, the terminal through which travelers pass between Israel and the Gaza Strip is a vast, high-tech hangar with a capacity of 45,000 people per day. Current traffic: 400 or fewer.
It was built, for about $60 million, starting in 2005, the year Israel withdrew all its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in what many imagined as a pilot land-for-peace deal that might be a precursor to an independent Palestinian state. But in June 2007, four months after the terminal was completed, Hamas, the militant Islamist movement, wrested control of Gaza. Israel sharply reduced the number of exit permits as part of a broader clampdown.
“They must allow our brother and sister in the West Bank to come to Gaza; they should allow at least children to go from Gaza to Jerusalem, to Tel Aviv, to Ramallah,” said Faysal Shawa, a businessman who is among the privileged few with a permit. He travels through Erez about twice a month.
“We want a safe passage as before, a peaceful one, yes,” Mr. Shawa said. “They can allow many, many, many, many, many more people out of Gaza, and that used to happen. It’s just political; they want to keep the pressure in Gaza.”
During this summer’s seven-week battle between Israel and Hamas, Erez was where the first Israeli civilian was killed — a 37-year-old volunteer felled by a mortar shell while distributing food to soldiers. In the fighting’s final days, another attack on Erez wounded four people, temporarily closing the crossing.