An eight-year-old boy and his mother, both Belgian citizens, are finally on their way home after five months stuck in Gaza

Child going through Erez Crossing, an illustration. Photograph: Karl Shembri

Child going through Erez Crossing, an illustration. Photograph: Karl Shembri

March 25, 2015. After five months of forced stay in the Gaza Strip, eight-year-old M. and his mother, both Belgian citizens, exited Gaza this morning through Erez Crossing and made their way to Jordan via Allenby Bridge Crossing. From there, they will make the trip home to Belgium. M. accompanied his Gaza-born mother to visit relatives in the Gaza Strip in late September 2014, arriving shortly after the end of Operation Protective Edge to the tremendous destruction left in its wake. They planned on staying only for a few weeks, but were unable to travel back to Egypt via Rafah Crossing, which was shut down two days before the planned end of their visit. In the subsequent months, Rafah opened for people departing Gaza to Egypt for a combined total of only eight days, with thousands remaining stuck in the Gaza Strip.

M. was very unhappy in Gaza, and understandly so, as he does not speak Arabic well and missed his family back home. A third grader, he missed about half of the school year in his primary school in Belgium. M.’s father said that his daughter, the oldest of his seven children, also suffered badly from the long separation from her mother.

Even though the case in question is clearly a humanitarian case, and even though there was no security claim against M. or his mother, the army denied Gisha’s request to allow the two to leave through Erez Crossing on the grounds that they did not meet the criteria for travel. Therefore, on March 11, we appealed to the Ministry of Justice’s High Court of Justice Department demanding to arrange their urgent exit through Erez and Allenby crossings. As far as we know, in the last two weeks, there was no change in Israel’s policy, however, two days ago, our office received a response from the army, approving the exit of M. and his mother through Erez Crossing.

According to the interior ministry in Gaza, as of February, there were 8,000 people on the waiting list for exit through Rafah. On the two days that the crossing was open since then, 1,010 departed to Egypt via the crossing, meaning that at least 7,000 people are still waiting to travel out of Gaza (and this number only includes people who managed to get on the waiting list). M.’s mother told us that the waiting list was so long that new people weren’t being added and she did not manage to get M. and herself onto the list. It’s hard to know how many people exactly are unable to return to their homes, studies and work. If Israel were to allow these people to travel through its territory on the short journey from Erez Crossing to Allenby Bridge Crossing, it could do a lot to reduce tensions in the Gaza Strip and allow thousands of people to get on with their lives.