The parking lot at Israel's Erez border crossing with Gaza is always a good barometer for how much interest there is in this isolated strip of land. Today it is mostly empty. There are a few aid workers going in, along with a trickle of journalists.
The Israel guard in the blast-resistant security booth asks me to lift my suitcase up on a ledge and open it up so he can look inside. I show him the baby seat I am bringing for my colleague who just had his first baby and the DVDs and the candy and the clothes and the books. One thing he's looking for is people bringing in large quantities of goods that Israel doesn't allow into Gaza. One time last year I was told by Israeli security at this booth that I could only bring in two cartons of cigarettes for my nicotine-addicted friends in Gaza.
This time the Israeli security let me through.
It's been four months since the end of Israel's military offensive in Gaza, and Hamas is still firmly in control.
Getting into Gaza now requires a Hamas security search at a rudimentary border checkpoint on the edge of the crossing.
Uniformed Gaza executive force members and police officers are searching bags for contraband.
They find it. In my bag. Stuffed up the pantlegs of my jeans.
Booze. Three bottles.
The border guards silently pull them out, one-by-one. Two bottles of Absolut Vodka and one bottle of arak.
He is doing this in front of a frustrated group of conservatively-dressed women from Gaza trying to get the OK from these border guards to head to the West Bank for a women's conference of some sort.
Somehow I feel it won't do much good to explain that these are gifts for friends in Gaza who don't mind the occasional drink, but can't openly buy a drop of good booze in this Hamas-led territory.
(The last open place selling booze in Gaza was firebombed on New Year's Eve a few years back...)
There are no set border rules in a place where you never know if there is actually going to be a border guard on the other side to greet you when you cross into Gaza, so it's sometimes hard to know for sure if you might have your bags checked on the Palestinian side.
Today, the answer is: Yes, you are going to have your bags checked.
My colleague told me as we were driving up to the checkpoint that Hamas is imposing a two bottle limit on ajnabis (foreigners) like me who are carrying forbidden booze into Gaza.
I must now choose: Which of my friends will lose out?
My colleague half-heartedly tries to talk the Hamas border guards into letting me bring all three, but they are adamant: Foreigners can bring in two bottles of booze. Period.
I decided to leave one bottle of vodka behind with Hamas.
Who knows what became of it. My colleague told me that they sometimes break the bottle in front of you. But this time, no.
Tonight I learned that the Hamas border guards nearly confiscated a six pack of ginger ale that they suspected was beer. The ginger ale coyotes had to open a can and let the border guard try it. Apparently, he went wild for the stuff.
I forgot to ask if the Hamas border guard asked the guy to bring him back some ginger ale the next time he came in...