KYIV, Ukraine — Israel is actively promoting the emigration of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, and is working to find other countries who may be willing to absorb them, a senior Israeli official said Monday.
Israel is ready to carry the costs of helping Gazans emigrate, and would even be willing to consider allowing them to use an Israeli air field close to Gaza to allow them to leave for their new host countries, the official said, apparently referring to air force bases deep inside Israel.
The senior official, in Ukraine as part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s delegation to Kiev, spoke on condition of anonymity.
More than 35,000 Gazans left the Strip in 2018, the official said, not including those who left but later returned.
“That’s a pretty high number,” the senior official said.
According to the official, European and Middle Eastern countries had been approached by Israel to accept Gazans who want to leave the Strip, but none had agreed to absorb them.
The official said the National Security Council had been spearheading the effort, with Netanyahu’s blessing, for about a year.
The program has been discussed in the security cabinet several times, the official said.
The National Security Council has recently spoken to European leaders and even countries in the region, asking if they were ready to accept Palestinians who want to leave the Strip, he said. So far, no country has agreed to absorb them, though. However, an “independent emigration” continues by those Gazans who manage to find host countries on their own, the official said.
There was no immediate reaction from Palestinian officials to the Israeli efforts.
The Hamas terror group — which took over Gaza by force in 2007, leading Israel and Egypt to impose a blockade — has imposed measures to stem the tide of emigration, according to a report by the Haaretz daily in May.
Gaza shares one tightly controlled civilian crossing with Israel, generally only used for humanitarian cases. Most Gazans leave the Strip via the Rafah crossing with Egypt, which is only opened sporadically.
While the crossing is intended for brief trips out of the beleaguered enclave, many residents — mainly young and educated — use the Rafah crossing as an opportunity to escape permanently, usually seeking refugee status in Europe.
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.
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.
Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.