Interview: For Palestinians in Gaza, freedom is invaluable

This month marks the 15th anniversary of the closure of the Gaza Strip by the Israeli government, which in fact includes more than one millionnEach person on a plot of land measuring 40 x 11 km. The sweeping restrictions imposed by the Israeli authorities on the movement of people and goods separate the Palestinians there from the rest of the world. Human Rights Watch editor Paul Oveiro spoke with Omar Shakir, Director of Israel and Palestine Affairs, and senior research associate Abeer al-Masri about their new report, what is happening inside Gaza and who I stopped their lives.

What does life like inside Gaza look like 15 years after the closure began?

Omar Shakir (AS): Closing penetrates virtually every aspect of daily life, from the freedom of movement of people to the ability to access educational or professional opportunities, seek medical attention, or visit relatives elsewhere. It has also contributed to the devastation of the economy in Gaza, where 80% of the population depends on humanitarian aid and most households do not have access to regular electricity, quality health care and clean water. Israeli authorities prevent most Gaza residents from traveling through Erez (Beit Hanoun), passing passengers from Gaza to Israel, to study abroad, to attend conferences, or to take vacations, activities that most of us do. consider well-being. While an American or French tourist might board a plane tomorrow and visit the old city of Jerusalem, or Ramallah, or elsewhere in the occupied West Bank, most Palestinians in Gaza cannot. Many young people, who represent the majority of the population, see no future there.

Abeer Al-Masry (AM): The Palestinians of Gaza can not decide if they can travel, where and when. Those lucky enough to secure a scholarship or job opportunity abroad may spend months preparing for those opportunities, only to be eventually denied the opportunity to leave Gaza.

Many training and professional development opportunities are not available in Gaza and the people we spoke to described how the loss of opportunities affected not only their personal or professional development but also their mental health. They are motivated, educated people who graduate and see no future for themselves under isolation. They want to travel and train, or even see the world abroad, but they can not. One of them, whose application for a travel permit was repeatedly rejected, said: “There is no future in Gaza … there is only one death sentence.”

How does Israel justify the travel ban and the continued closure?

ASH: Israeli authorities justify closure for security reasons and point to the rise of Hamas to power in Gaza in 2007. However, Israeli policy impedes the freedom of movement of people in Gaza virtually, with limited exceptions, despite any individual assessment of the risks of the security that a particular person may present. Under international human rights law, Palestinians have the right to free movement, especially in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and Israel can restrict it only for limited reasons, such as addressing specific and vulnerable security threats. Of course, these general restrictions do not comply with this requirement.

How is the travel ban enforced? Do people have any opportunity to travel outside Gaza?

AS: Israel imposes a general travel ban on Gaza residents. Most have never left Gaza, especially those under 30 years old. To leave, an Israeli permit is required, which is rarely issued and limited to a narrow set of exceptions, such as urgent medical procedures.

With most Gaza residents unable to travel through the Israeli-controlled Beit Hanoun crossing, the Egyptian-administered Rafah crossing has emerged as Gaza’s main outlet to the outside world. But Egypt often closes the passage to Rafah. Even when the crossing is open, as has happened more regularly in recent years, Egyptian authorities severely restrict travel, including long delays and, in some cases, mistreatment of passengers.

To circumvent these restrictions, Palestinians may turn to Egyptian private travel companies, some of which are affiliated with the Egyptian authorities, or Palestinian intermediaries, and pay large sums to reduce the risk of denial of entry or abuse and to speed up their journey. But this option is beyond the capacity of most Gaza residents, and people who have to travel for medical reasons, to care for a sick relative or to secure entry into the new school year are often forced to carry a burden. great financial.

With little chance of progress in Gaza, many take the risk and travel through Rafah. From Egypt, some seek to travel irregularly to Europe, embarking on a potentially dangerous journey with the help of smugglers in the hope of finding freedom and opportunity in Europe.

Can you tell me about some of the people you have talked to and tried to make these trips?

AM: I talked to Saleh Hamadi’s father, who finished high school in Gaza and wanted a job. With little chance in Gaza, Saleh decided to leave. His father told us that Saleh paid $ 1,000 to speed up his journey from Gaza through Egypt in 2018, then to Turkey, and then paid smugglers there an even greater amount to make the perilous journey across the sea Aegean. His father told me that when he arrived in Europe, Saleh had difficulty obtaining legal status in Greece and then crossed several places on foot before drowning as he tried to cross a river separating Bosnia from Serbia. All Saleh wanted was a job and a better life.

There is another man I spoke to, Jahja Barbakh, who is the sole breadwinner for his wife, two children, mother and sister. All he wanted was to support them. Given the impossibility of doing so in Gaza, he traveled illegally to Europe in January 2022. He took money and sold his mother’s jewelry to finance the trip, including the cost of speeding up his trip outside Gaza through Egypt.

Between Turkey and Greece, the wooden boat secured by smugglers for Yahya and other migrants sank in the turbulent waters and sank, with three people drowned. Yahya said he and other survivors were rescued and taken to a refugee center in Greece. While rescue workers were trying to pull others out, he left a voice message for his mother on his friend’s phone saying, “Mom, I’m Yahya. Mom, we’re drowning for two hours. Get us out. “. [السلطات] “Only … Mom, the men who were with us died … Mom, we ate fish.”[1] Yahya decided to return to Gaza. Shocked by his experience, he vows never to risk again, even though he is unemployed and faces the same uncertain future he faced before. “The prison we live in is the one that forced us to take risks,” he said. “I see pain in the eyes of my children and my mother when they have nothing to eat. I have no job and I have no.” I do not know how to feed them. “

The result was different for Khalil al-Najjar. Halili told us he wanted to travel for a scholarship to Britain. He tried to travel through Egypt several times, but the Egyptian authorities constantly prevented him. He paid $ 1,500 to speed up his journey from Gaza through Egypt, but police stopped him at Cairo airport and deported him to Gaza. He said he lost his scholarship due to the delay, but was determined to leave Gaza to find opportunities elsewhere. He left and paid the smugglers to reach Europe by sea. After several attempts, including attempts to overthrow the boat, and arrests by various authorities (one of which by the Greek authorities lasted four months), he finally arrived in Germany, where he is currently located.

What needs to happen to improve the lives of people in Gaza?

AS: The difficulties imposed by the closure, including economic devastation, reflect the deplorable situation in Gaza. The lack of opportunities for the people in Gaza is part of a deliberate policy imposed as part of two Israeli authorities crimes against apartheid humanity and persecution against millions of Palestinians. It must end.

Israel must lift the comprehensive embargo and allow freedom of movement to and from Gaza. If Israel considers that its security seeks to control who enters its territory, the security control must be individual and subject to appeal. She had plenty of time to develop such a system. By its general nature, the current travel ban is illegal.

Abeer, Not so long ago you could finally leave Gaza to work and pursue opportunities abroad. How do you feel when you hear these stories from others?

GM: I have my stories and I upload other people’s stories because I share a lot with them. I am luckier than most Gaza residents and I work for an international organization, but neither could I leave Gaza for the first time until 2018, when I was 31 years old. When I see how easy it is for Aryans to move freely around the world, the reality of Palestinians in Gaza is hard to accept. It is painful to know that many are denied the basic right to move freely simply because they are Palestinians living in Gaza.

I remember talking to Khalil and hearing him describe life outside Gaza. Describe how horizons have widened now that strict and arbitrary constraints have ceased to impose his life choices and how his dreams have turned into plans he thinks he can achieve. Looking back on his journey, he told me that he misses his family, community and life in Gaza, but in the end, “freedom is invaluable.”

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