Gaza Palestinians dream of Europe

Friday 27/11/2015
Palestinians present their documents as they seek travel permits to cross into Egypt, at the Rafah border crossing.

Gaza City - Mohammed Abdul Rahman, a 25-year-old jobless Palestin­ian from the Gaza Strip, is all set. He has a visa to Turkey but awaits the reo­pening of Gaza’s border with Egypt to fly there before trying to reach Europe by boat with the help of smugglers. He hopes he will even­tually end up in Sweden.
More than a year ago, Abdul Rahman made it as far as Egypt’s Mediterranean port of Alexandria, where a boat smuggling him and other emigrants to Italy sank. All passengers, including Abdul Rah­man, were arrested and sent to their home countries.
“This time, it’s different because I have a visa to Turkey,” an optimis­tic Rahman said with a smirk. “All I’m waiting for is the border with Egypt to reopen so that I can fly from there to Turkey.”
After that he said he would con­nect with smugglers to reach Eu­rope.
“For sure, I’ll sneak into Europe somehow, like the thousands of Iraqis and Syrians who made it suc­cessfully there,” Rahman said. “I want to live in Sweden.”
Tens of thousands of young men and women are desperate to flee a long list of hardships in Gaza. Most prominent are soaring unemploy­ment and poverty rates, massive destruction to the infrastructure caused by an Israeli war in the sum­mer of 2014 and a stringent Israeli blockade.
Fanning the flames are social re­strictions imposed by the govern­ing Hamas administration, which enforces strict Islamic code, such as veiling women, banning alcohol and the mixing of sexes in public.
Gaza was ostracised interna­tionally for Hamas’s 2007 violent takeover of the area from the Pal­estinian Authority (PA), which is in charge of the West Bank. That left Gazans, squeezed into a small terri­tory between Israel and Egypt with little room to breathe.
What was more annoying to many in Gaza were television re­ports in October about the world outcry over Syrian and Iraqi refu­gees emigrating to Europe, spe­cifically Germany. Many in Gaza, who are unable to travel under the Israeli siege, grew more frustrated.
In September 2014, weeks after the Israeli war on Gaza ended, 160 immigrants, including many from Gaza, were aboard the ship that sank off Alexandria. Fifteen Gaza Palestinians died and 70 other Gazans, including Abdul Rahman, were arrested.
Gaza government figures show that the highest percentage of the population of 1.8 million deter­mined to leave the Gaza Strip are aged 19-30. They are described as having “lost hope in a future in Gaza”.
Hassan Ahmed, a 24-year-old unemployed Gaza resident, said he tried several times to cross into Is­rael and head to Europe. “But each time, the Israelis caught me and sent me back home,” Ahmed said, laughing.
Asked why he wants to leave Gaza, Ahmed said: “Look. Here in Gaza, I couldn’t find a job.
“All the doors were closed in front of me. I had to start somehow to build a future, whereby I can get married, have children and buy a house but the economy in Gaza is bad and if I stay, I’ll remain where I am.”
Even for those working, the situ­ation is not rosy.
Mohammed Abul Kheir, 24, was hired a few months ago to staff a small kiosk on the beach in Gaza. He sells tea and coffee to fishermen and local tourists. The father of a 2-year-old daughter said he earned $5 per day, working for ten hours.
Abul Kheir said he plans to take his wife and daughter “to live in a European country”.
“At least there’s peace and stabil­ity there,” he said.
Raji Sourani, director of the Pal­estinian Centre for Human Rights, said young Gazans leave because of a “lack of jobs, the growing rates of unemployment and poverty”.
Sorani said many residents be­lieve that the borders with Israel and Egypt will remain closed as long as bickering exists between Hamas and the PA’s Fatah faction.
Omer Shaban, who heads the pri­vate think-tank Gaza PalThink, said Palestinian reconciliation was not happening anytime soon, thus the “situation in Gaza will get worse and [many] more people will want to leave in search of a better life abroad”.
But for the Hamas-run govern­ment, Israel is to blame for the trouble. “The siege and the closure of the border is frustrating people,” said Gaza Deputy Interior Minister Kamel Abu Madi.