Young boys rent themselves as passengers

Friday, June 21, 2002

GUSH KATIF, Gaza Strip -- The Israeli roadblock at Gush Katif has opened opportunities to some enterprising Palestinians, among them young boys who "rent" themselves to drivers. The Israeli army requires at least three passengers per vehicle, a safety precaution meant to reduce the risk that a vehicle will be used for a suicide attack, the Palestinians explained.

When a driver is alone, or has just one passenger, he "rents" boys who stand on the side of the road, paying them about 50 cents to make the slow, sometimes dangerous trip past the checkpoint.

"I make the trip twice a week, every Saturday and Tuesday," said Ramzi abu Taha, 35, an engineer who commutes between his home in Rafah and his office in Gaza City. From Saturday until Tuesday, he said, he sleeps in Gaza to avoid the commute. Munir Elghawage, a slip of a boy who said he was 14 but looked much younger, sat beside him in his taxi.

"I picked him up," Taha said. "I'll pay him a couple of shekels for making the ride. We have to keep coming through. We have to resist. We have no choice."

In the last few months, roadside stands have sprung up to sell those stuck here everything from falafel sandwiches to sweets.

Ayman Moussa opened his stand a month ago. He sells falafel sandwiches for about 20 cents apiece. "My customers are always exhausted," said Moussa, 35, who sold cell phones before the fighting broke out. "They are frustrated and angry -- imagine how you would feel, sitting in a car for 10 hours."

The day that hundreds were trapped at the roadblock overnight, Moussa said, he sold 1,000 sandwiches. But other days, the roadblock suddenly opens "and I have to throw food out." Still, he said he is confident enough that the situation will continue that he plans to bring in a generator, install a refrigerator and expand his menu.

Gesturing to the men and boys playing cards, drinking coffee or huddling in groups near their cars, Moussa said the long waits are hardest on the women.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: