Israel pushing Gazans to migrate to change demographics

Many Palestinian migrants have reached Europe or other countries in search of a brighter future.
Saturday 19/10/2019
A Palestinian hugs a family member as he prepares to cross to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)
Painful separation. A Palestinian hugs a family member as he prepares to cross to Egypt through the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip. (AFP)

Gaza is often described as the world’s largest open-air prison because of the Israeli blockade in place since 2007. The area is said to be a pressure cooker because of the endless crises facing its growing population. Nearly 2 million residents live in the 365 coastal enclave under Israeli air, sea and land control and a suffocating siege.

All movement from Gaza to the West Bank is restricted by an Israeli-controlled terminal. While the war-torn area remains under Israeli occupation, Gazans are not allowed to use Israeli airports or seaports. Travel to the outside world is available only through Egypt’s Rafah Border Crossing, after which travellers must make their way to Cairo’s airport.

Even then leaving is not easy. Travellers must register with Gaza’s Interior Ministry far in advance and wait months to receive permission to exit. Bribes must be paid to both the Egyptians and Palestinians for a speedier exit from the “Big Prison of Gaza.”

However, the situation is only expected to get worse. With soaring poverty and an unemployment rate that ranks among the highest in the world, economic prospects are low and there is little hope. The United Nations warned that Gaza will be unliveable by 2020.

This bleak reality has forced many to search for a better life abroad. Individuals and families from Gaza have risked their lives boarding flimsy boats to travel across the Mediterranean to reach Europe. Many drowned trying to reach European shores. Images recently emerged of migrants trekking through forests in Europe with no food or fresh water.

In an attempt to evade responsibility for the misery in Gaza, a senior Israeli official said Israel was ready to cover the costs of helping Palestinians in Gaza immigrate and would consider allowing the use of an Israeli airfield near the coastal strip for their departures to new host countries.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, added that the Israeli National Security Council recently asked European and Arab countries if they were ready to accept Palestinians who want to leave the impoverished sliver but has yet to receive any positive response.

The Israeli policy is part of a systematic campaign, or let’s say strategy, to drive Gazans to leave to change the demographics of the area.

The only statistics on migration from Gaza come from Israel. They state that 35,000 Palestinians left the Gaza Strip in 2018 via the Rafah crossing, not factoring in those who left and returned.

At the time, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry expressed concern that Israel was pushing Gazans to leave their homeland, accusing the Jewish state of “targeting Palestinians and Gaza’s livelihoods and squeezing them to motivate them to emigrate.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party accused Hamas of increasing Gaza’s hardship by refusing to relinquish control of the territory.

Samir Zaqout, deputy director of Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights, said the Israeli siege, frequent Israeli land and air offensives and deep divisions between the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah are the main causes of the area’s deteriorating humanitarian situation.

“Israel’s military practices, whether it is in the occupied West Bank, Gaza or Jerusalem, ranging from house demolitions, confiscating Palestinian resources, settlers attacks, frequent raids, arrests campaigns, humiliations as well as the siege on Gaza force Palestinians to relocate or migrate and look for better future and safe place to live,” said Zaqout. “Therefore, these are systematic Israeli campaigns to empty the land from its indigenous population — the Palestinians.”

“The international community also should bear the responsibility and consequences for not intervening to stop the Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians in the occupied territories,” he added.

Many Palestinian migrants have reached Europe or other countries, both legally and illegally, in search of a brighter future. Many are skilled professionals, leading to a brain drain in the territory.

Since the start of the Great March of Return in March 2018, weekly protests calling for a removal of the Israeli siege, many frustrated young people have attempted to infiltrate the security fence between Gaza and Israel to escape the unbearable life in Gaza. All who crossed were arrested by Israeli forces, with some later released.

The more Gaza’s harsh reality persists, the more people will consider desperate options. The denial of Gazans’ basic rights and freedom of movement as well as a deepening split between Palestinian factions have given rise to corruption and social unrest. The worse the situation gets, the clearer it is that Gaza’s hardship is part of an orchestrated Israeli strategy to weaken the citizens’ morale and pressure them out.