Opinion

Emigrating From Gaza to the Grave, With a Little Help From Israel

Relatives of Palestinian activist Tamer al-Sultan mourn next to a photo of him on a wall in his family home during his funeral in town of Beit Lahiya, Gaza Strip, August 25, 2019.
Khalil Hamra/AP

GAZA - The residents of Gaza are tossed about by a constant sequence of shocks, the kind that have lowered our threshold of sensitivity to almost anything, no matter how much it hurts. This is life under a permanent sense of loss: a loss of hope, of life, of a future. We get up in the morning and hear reports about the soaring percentages of unemployment, about the polluted water in the taps that we’re not allowed to drink, about cruel poverty.

On the horizon there are always promises of big plans and infrastructure projects with international financing, but most of them are selling an illusion of a future that will not necessarily be better. The painful news has become part of the cycle of life, like the cyclical nature of electricity, which appears for less than eight hours and then disappears again. Children in Gaza were born to this reality – they no longer ask why all this is happening in this large prison. The world moves between stations of pain.

This week I once again fell into a low point of despair and sorrow as a resident of the Strip, when I opened my computer in the morning and found out about the death of a pharmacist from Gaza, who drowned in the sea in an attempt to get from Cyprus to the European continent. I saw his pictures with his family, celebrating his children’s birthdays, the family’s good wishes on the most recent holiday, which included a hope that they would meet soon, in a better situation.

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The pharmacist, Tamer al-Sultan, didn’t risk his life for financial gain, although who knows better than I do that the economic situation in Gaza is very tough. I understand what his objective was. He left in order to seek hope for his children. What is happening now in Gaza is an internalization of despair, to the point where people will prefer to try to escape, even with a real risk to their lives, only in order to seek hope.

I didn’t shed a tear as is expected in such situations. My thoughts froze. Are all of us here already suffering from a lack of sensitivity? An inability to react? That’s it, this is life? This is the future that we want for our children?

Hours before Al-Sultan’s death, there were reports in the media that Israel is looking for ways to make it easier for Palestinians to emigrate from Gaza due to the hardship of living there. This was presented as an Israeli gesture towards the Gazans. As though Israel has no connection to the deterioration of our living conditions.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan confirmed the reports and said that they are a result of in-depth discussions, and that an effort was made to speak to other countries in order to guarantee countries of destination for the emigrants. Israel is directly responsible for the gravity of the present situation in the Gaza Strip, and although it is impossible to deny the role of Palestinian administrations, Egypt and the rest of the international community, Israel is the main and most important player in this equation. At the end of the day, since Israel controls the Strip almost totally, it is also responsible for enabling solutions.

The drowning of Tamer al-Sultan is a painful incident. His shocked family now confronts the question of what kind of life they will have now without him. It is possible that many others in the Strip would seriously consider an Israeli proposal to emigrate, although apparently it is primarily a gesture designed to woo the Israeli electorate as another Election Day approaches. We haven’t forgotten that in 1967 Israel used the same logic in order to persuade Palestinians to emigrate to other countries, and was also willing to pay for what it considered a strategic step.

We all know that it’s impossible to treat a problem by dealing only with its symptoms. What is happening in Gaza is a reaction to a cruel closure that Israel has been conducting for the past 12 years. It was Israel that created the despair and caused us to emigrate to our death.

Gazans don’t want an easing of conditions in order to emigrate and to leave their cities and villages, because that is not what will solve their distress. The solution is liberty and freedom for the residents, all the rights and opportunities to which all the inhabitants of the region are entitled. The Strip will be built by itself, by its children, and will restore hope to itself.

The writer is a resident of the Gaza Strip and a field coordinator for the Gisha human rights organization.