Some 35,000 Palestinians left the Gaza Strip in 2018 and didn’t return due to the financial crisis there, a report said Sunday, with the Hamas terror group imposing measures to stem the tide of emigration.
The Rafah Crossing between the Strip and Egypt was opened in November 2017 for the first time in a decade, letting Gazans take a plane to Turkey for vacations.
However, many residents — mainly young and educated — saw that as an opportunity to escape the impoverished enclave, the Haaretz daily reported Sunday. They were smuggled onto boats and sent to Greece, from which they traveled to other European countries — chiefly Germany and Sweden.
Among dozens of migrants killed last month when a boat capsized off the shore of Turkey were 13 Palestinians escaping Gaza, according to the report.
The report cited data by the UN and other organizations to conclude that “estimations in Israel” are that the number of those who left Gaza and did not return was 35,000.
Hamas — which took over Gaza by force in 2007, leading Israel and Egypt to impose a blockade ever since — at first saw the Rafah Crossing’s opening as a way of pocketing some cash via payments for the permits, passports, transportation and bribes received in exchange for expediting the process, Haaretz said.
But as time went by Hamas realized it was being exploited by those who had the means to seek a better life elsewhere and send money to their families in Gaza.
Those are said to have included 150 medical doctors, leading Hamas to prohibit all medical staff from leaving.
Youth unemployment in Gaza is at 70 percent, according to the World Bank, which says the main cause is the blockade of the Strip. Israel says the blockade is necessary to restrict Hamas’s import of weapons and other materials it could use to attack Israel. Rights groups argue the measures amount to collective punishment of the roughly two million residents.
In March, hundreds of Palestinians participated in protests against rising prices and in opposition to Hamas in various locations in the Strip.
Hamas security forces cracked down harshly, beating protesters and arresting hundreds, rights groups said. Demonstrations have since petered out.
An Islamist movement that openly seeks Israel’s destruction, Hamas has fought three wars with the Jewish state since 2008 and has launched thousands of rockets at Israeli cities, as well as incendiary balloons and kites carrying explosive devices that since last summer have burned large swaths of land.
Agencies contributed to this report.