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Border diplomacy -- with a guitar

December 18, 2004

Husein Mashni

Having an American passport makes me one of the few people who can

actually go in and out of the Gaza Strip these days.

But it's not easy. I live in Khan Younis, south of the Abu Holie

checkpoint, which means I have to go through that checkpoint, which

is in the middle of the Gaza Strip, to get to the Erez checkpoint in

the north, where the national border between Israel and the Gaza

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Strip is.

Even if you're the president, when you come to Abu Holie, you sit

and wait with the rest. Usually, hundreds of cars, trucks and buses

wait for hours for the checkpoint to open, so they can pass through

to Gaza City or one of the refugee camps of the north.

Having been blessed recently to go to Spain, I found it actually

takes less time to go from Tel Aviv in Israel to Malaga in Spain

(five hours) than it takes me to go from Khan Younis to Gaza City

(four days).

In terms of distance, the trip between Gaza and Khan Younis takes

only 15 minutes.

Anyway, I was recently stuck at Abu Holie in one of the many

rusting, yellow Mercedes-Benz limousines trying to get to Gaza.

The taxi driver, noticing my guitar case, demanded a song. I

relented after he insisted as only Arabs know how.

I took the guitar and played a humorous rendition of a popular

Arabic song, which I had plagiarized and localized.

It is called "So Ya So Habibi Habaso," which means "So Ya So, they

put my friend in prison."

The song was a hit with the stranded group.

Then I did another song, which I plagiarized from church and

localized.

It's called, "Salaam," which is Arabic for "Peace," a word which

is very similar to its Hebrew cousin, shalom.

It, too, was received well. Both songs have been played on local

radio stations here in Gaza.

When I finally got through Abu Holie, I hurried toward the Erez

checkpoint, so I could get into Israel and see my father in his West

Bank village, near Jerusalem.

When I got to Erez, the Palestinian soldiers on the Gaza side, saw

the guitar and demanded a song.

I played "So Ya So," and they laughed, clapped. One even invited

me to play at his brother's wedding.

Then, about 100 meters away, the Israeli interrogation process

began. First you wait until the revolving metal doors open. A camera

watches you the whole time. The Israeli soldiers here are all young.

They joke and laugh like 18- and 19-year-olds do. There are guns

pointed at me throughout the interrogations.

I've been through it enough times not to flinch. It lasts between

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