Why Palestinians are fleeing the Gaza Strip – opinion

51 percent of Gaza’s young people would leave if given the opportunity.

By Khaled Abu Toameh, Gatestone Institute 

A tragedy that recently hit the Gaza Strip has again exposed the extent of the suffering of Palestinians under the rule of the Iranian-backed group, Hamas.

The tragedy also serves as a reminder of the double standards of the international community in dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially the obsession with Israel and the tendency to ignore any wrongdoing on the Palestinian side.

According to reports from the Gaza Strip, at least three Palestinians who fled the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave went missing, apparently after their boat capsized off the shores of Greece and Turkey. The three were among dozens of Palestinians seeking a better life away from the repression and corruption of Hamas.

One of the victims was identified as 25-year-old Anas Abu Rajileh; another was Nasrallah al-Farra.

The incident attracted extensive attention among Palestinians because of an audio recording by one of the Palestinian emigrants on the boat. In the recording — a voice message he sent his mother in the Gaza Strip — the young man is telling his mother that one of his friends has drowned. He asks her to notify the friend’s family. “Mother,” the man is heard saying, “we are drowning and the fish are eating us.”

Many young people from the Gaza Strip who are able to save or secure enough money have in recent years been fleeing to other countries through Turkey and Greece. They reportedly pay thousands of dollars in bribes to Hamas officials, Egyptian border guards and smugglers to help them leave the Gaza Strip to start a new life in Europe and other countries.

A public opinion poll conducted by Al-Aqsa University in the Gaza Strip last year showe51% of young people living in Gaza would willingly migrate if they were given the opportunity to do so.

More than 80% explained that the main reason they want to leave the Gaza Strip is economic factors.

Notably, the poll found that 73% of respondents believe that if Hamas and its rivals in the ruling Fatah faction, headed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, stopped warring with each other, the young Palestinians would not consider emigration.

Hamas and Fatah have been at war with each other since 2007. Then, Hamas staged a violent coup against the PA, threw PA officials to their deaths from the top floors of high buildings, and seized control of the Gaza Strip.

It is not clear how many Palestinians have fled the Gaza Strip in recent years. Some reports estimate that more than 40,000 Palestinians managed to leave between 2014 and 2020. Other reports put the figure at more than 70,000.

Palestinians in the poll expressed concern that many of the emigrants include university graduates and professionals, especially medical doctors who prefer to work and live in European countries, and not under Hamas.

“The drowning incidents of young men during the emigration trips make the families of the immigrants anxious,” the pan-Arab Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper reported. “At the same time, the drowning shows the extent of the tragedy experienced by the residents of the Gaza Strip, which pushes the best of its sons to emigrate.”

The latest incident sparked a wave of protests by many Palestinians, who took to various social media platforms to express shock and disbelief over the tragedy and denounce Hamas leaders for their failure to improve the living conditions of their people.

Referring to the lavish lifestyle led by most Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip and abroad, many Palestinians complained that while the fish are eating the poor emigrants, Hamas leaders continue to enjoy the best fish and seafood on offer in Qatar and the Gaza Strip.

Upon learning about the tragedy, other Palestinians launched a hashtag on Twitter, titled “We Want to Live,” in which they too held Hamas responsible for the high rate of unemployment and poverty in the Gaza Strip.

Some social media users also blamed Abbas’s Fatah faction for their continued misery, because of its ongoing rivalry with Hamas.

“The [Hamas] government is doing nothing to change the human lives there,” wrote Palestinian journalist Walid Mahmoud. “Add to that that the media is not talking about this, and I believe they won’t talk about this.” Mahmoud, who is from the Gaza Strip, explained that the hashtag “We Want to Live” reflects the extent to which the population of Gaza has been outraged by “the stupidity of the ruling [Hamas] administration.”

Referring to the corruption and apathy of Hamas leaders towards the suffering of their people, some Palestinians revealed that the sons of Hamas leaders were giving each other tickets to the Egyptian seaside resort of Sharm a-Sheikh as gifts.

A Palestinian man from the Gaza Strip, who did not reveal his name, posted a video in which he launched a scathing attack on the Hamas leaders, accusing them of destroying the future of young people.

“If our leaders do not care about us, this is a disaster… The people are dying; they are starving. The people’s lives have been destroyed. The young men are dying, and the fish are eating them. The [Hamas] leaders and their sons are not better than me and my children.”

Apparently, the two million Palestinians living under the rule of Hamas have reached the conclusion that it is Hamas, and not Israel, that is responsible for their misery.

Judging from the reactions of Palestinians to the latest tragedy involving the would-be-emigrants, it is obvious that many Palestinians understand what most anti-Israel activists fail to grasp — that Hamas prioritizes manufacturing and smuggling weapons over providing jobs to the unemployed and assisting those living in poverty.

Hamas could have turned the Gaza Strip into the Singapore of the Middle East. Instead, Hamas chose to turn the Gaza Strip into a center for jihad (holy war) against Israel.

Ghanem Nusseibeh, a Palestinian Muslim belonging to the oldest Arab family in Jerusalem, commented:

“During the past 15 years, Hamas has taken Gaza from bad to worse. Gazans are a people under a brutal Islamist regime who are held hostage to stagnant policies that only serve the interests of Hamas and their global Islamist allies. If the international community could help liberate Gaza from such forces, they could help Gazans create a Dubai on the Med or a new Singapore.”

If the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are indeed so desperate, it would behoove them to overthrow Hamas and end its iron-fisted rule over the Gaza Strip.

Yet, Hamas continues to crush dissent and intimidate its critics. In addition, Hamas continues to enjoy popularity among many Palestinians not only in the Gaza Strip, but even in the West Bank. The reason Hamas is so popular is that many Palestinians support its call for the elimination of Israel.

It would be more helpful if the Palestinians fleeing the Gaza Strip remained home and devoted their energies to removing Hamas from power, even if that removal came at a heavy price. This is the one and only way to solve the problems of Gaza.

Blaming Israel for everything wrong in the Gaza Strip may fool many in the US, Canada, Europe and the UK. But the Palestinians fleeing Gaza and their families who remain behind know the truth — that it is Hamas that has brought them to the abyss, including the sea in which they are now drowning.

Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.