Erez has the longest no-man’s land I’ve ever seen. After passing Israeli security, you walk nearly a kilometre through a covered concrete tunnel, nothing but demolished houses and industrial buildings on either side. Reach the car park, and on the drive into town, there’s another kilometre or so of wasteland, shelled beyond all recognition, which no one dares return to.
On the road, visiting the hospital of Musa El-Hadad, our car is stopped by masked gunmen tied to Fatah’s armed Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade. One of their men was killed this morning. In retaliation, they kidnapped several Hamas members.
The streets are deserted. No one dares relax on the sidewalk at night, or take their children out for ice-cream, as they normally would. There is the smell of burning plastic in a haze throughout the neighbourhood – local municipalities stopped collecting rubbish after going unpaid for so long, so locals burn piles of rubbish in the street. All I can see are silhouettes, lit by the fires, flitting past the door to my hotel.
Every few minutes, the sound of gunshots reverberates off the surrounding buildings. A random, paranoid exchange of fire, somewhere in the city. Then silence, the cool Mediterranean breeze. Then more gunshots. Two armed, masked men stand watch in front of my hotel, sitting on breeze blocks, talking to one another. They take little notice of the gunfire. Laila and her parents spoke of it as though it were just something that kept them up at night, like mosquitoes in their bedroom.