Gaza: For many people hoping on a plane and traveling to a foreign country is a piece of cake. But for Hussam Salem, an accomplished photojournalist from Gaza, it was a dream.
Salem, like Gaza’s two million other residents, lives under a crippling Israeli and Egyptian imposed siege.
The photographer, whose pictures have been published by Getty Images and New York Times, has missed attending several photojournalism events around the world.
He even missed two events where he was to be honoured for his work in Turkey.
Having tried to leave more than 35 times in four years, Salem finally crossed the Rafah border with Egypt in November and boarded a plane to Turkey where he will be attended a photo journalism training course.
The opening and closing of the Rafah border is sporadic and it is often open and closed for political rea-sons.
Therefore, often times Salem applies for a visa to travel and by the time the border is opened his visa is expired.
“I always signed up among other thousands to cross the Rafah border. I was called five times to cross the border, but every time I got these calls, my visas were already expired,” Salem told Gulf News in a phone call from Istanbul.
Salem says that there were many times when he was supposed to travel the next day, but the border was suddenly announced closed due to security reasons.
The opening of the Rafah border is either related to the security status in the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula, or to the diplomatic ties with the Egyptian regime.
While Salem’s reason for travel is work-related, for many others seeking urgent medical treatments it’s a matter of life or death.
Some patients in critical condition get lucky and are granted rare Israeli travel permits to go through the Beit Hanoun crossing.
“I had secured the Turkish visa and applied to leave Gaza through the Rafah border but did not expect that I would be chosen,” Salem says.
“When I got the call I couldn’t believe it. It was like a dream. Up until the moment I boarded the plane in Cairo I expected to be sent back to Gaza last minute because of my Turkish visa.”
Egypt and Turkey have a tense relationship due to Ankara’s support for ousted Egyptian Islamist presi-dent Mohammad Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“It’s great to be here, but it’s regrettable that it is such a difficult process based on luck and hope. I wish I could just travel whenever I wanted,” Salem says.
-With inputs from Layelle Saad GCC/Middle East Editor
-Abeer is a freelance journalist based in Gaza