The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Ministry expressed concern on Tuesday over Israel’s promotion of the emigration of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, calling a statement by a senior Israeli official on the matter a day earlier “extremely dangerous.”
The senior official, who was in Ukraine as part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s delegation to Kyiv, said on Monday that the Jewish state is ready to cover the costs of helping Palestinians in Gaza emigrate and would be willing to consider allowing the use of an Israeli air field close to the coastal enclave for their departures to new host countries.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also said that the National Security Council has recently asked European and Arab countries if they were ready to accept Palestinians who want to leave the Strip, but has yet to receive any positive response.
He added that more than 35,000 Palestinians in Gaza left the territory in 2018, not including those who left but later returned.
The increased number of Palestinians emigrating from Gaza has coincided with Egypt’s decision to start opening the Rafah crossing — the sole pedestrian passageway between the coastal enclave and Egypt — on a more consistent basis in May 2018.
The PA Foreign Ministry also accused Israel of “targeting Palestinians and Gaza’s livelihoods, and squeezing them in order to motivate them to emigrate.”
Hamas-controlled Gaza suffers from severely inadequate supplies of water and electricity, ailing health services, widespread poverty, and a high unemployment rate.
Fifty-three percent of Palestinians in Gaza live in poverty, according to a June 2018 United Nations report.
Since the Hamas terror group took over Gaza in 2007, Israel has upheld stringent restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of the coastal enclave.
Israeli officials argue that the restrictions aim to prevent terrorist groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, from importing weapons and other materials that could be used to attack Israelis.
Israel and Gaza terror groups have fought three wars in the past decade, most recently in 2014, and engage in frequent bouts of tit-for-tat fighting.
Seeking better fortune in Muslim-majority countries, Europe
A 26-year-old resident of Gaza City said that growing numbers of Palestinians were leaving Gaza because of the lack of job opportunities.
“People are moving away because there is barely any work. They are suffering and feel like they do not have a future here,” the resident, who asked to remain nameless, told The Times of Israel. “They think they have a better chance at succeeding abroad.”
A number of those who emigrated have moved to Turkey, Indonesia and other Muslim-majority countries, but also European countries such as Belgium.
More than 1,000 Palestinians have crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Europe in 2019, the International Organization for Migration told National Public Radio in July.
Asked about the Israeli official’s comments, the Gaza resident said: “As far as I am concerned, he made the statement to win more votes from the right, which holds racist views of Palestinians,” referring to the upcoming Israeli elections on September 17.
He also said that he has struggled to find work in his profession as a lawyer, but plans to stay in Gaza to remain close to his family.
Youth unemployment in Gaza is over 70%, according to the World Bank.
Forty-two percent of Palestinians in Gaza would like to emigrate due to “political, security and economic,” whereas only 18% of Palestinians in the West Bank would like to do so, according to a poll conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in July 2019.
Doctors check out
Mahmoud Daher, the head of the World Health Organization’s sub-office in Gaza, said that while the phenomenon of doctors emigrating from Gaza has existed for decades, the rate of medical professionals leaving the territory has increased since Egypt began opening Rafah on a more regular basis.
“This emigration has significantly impacted the health sector,” Daher said in a phone call. “Many of the doctors leave for training, education or travel abroad and then they don’t come back.”
He added that some of the doctors who have left possess special skills and cannot be replaced overnight.
“Cardiac, pediatric and brain surgeons, oncologists and other specialists have moved abroad,” he said. “It often takes several years to train other persons to replace them.”