Those returning to Gaza carried everything from food to livestock. Other Gazans were carrying on their shoulders boxes of another precious commodity in besieged Gaza -- cigarettes -- the price of which has at least doubled over the past several months.
"We are bringing cigarettes because its cheaper in Egypt," said one such individual.
The Rafah crossing terminal -- the main point of entry into Gaza from Egypt -- has been permanently closed since June 2007. On 19 September 2007 Israel declared Gaza an "enemy entity" and began imposing an additional series of collective punishment measures against the population, including sharp reductions of imports, ostensibly in reaction to the firing of homemade rockets from Gaza. However, Israeli public figures have repeatedly stated that the intent of the siege is to put pressure on the civilian population and erode popular support of the elected Hamas government which took control of the Strip this summer.
"Two hours ago people were praising God everywhere. The metal wall was cut and destroyed. So was the cement one. It is great, Laila, it is great," she declared.
For the first time in months, I sensed a degree of enthusiasm, hope ... relief even, emanating thousands of miles away, via digitized words, from Gaza. Words that have been all but absent from the Palestinian vocabulary. Buried. Methodically and gradually destroyed.
Of course, the border opening will only provide temporary relief. The ecstasy it generates will be fleeting, as it was in 2005 when shortly after Israel's disengagement, the once impervious and deadly sniper-lined border became completely porous. It was an incredible time. I will never forget the feeling of standing in the middle of the Philadelphi corridor, as it was known.
The feeling of standing there with hundreds of thousands of other Gazans, savoring the moment of uninterrupted freedom, in this case, freedom of movement. Goats were being lobbed over the secondary fence, mattresses, cigarettes, cheeses. Egyptians took back bags of apples from northern Gaza, and comforters. For two weeks, it was the free market at work.