GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — More Gazans are seeking to flee to Israel in search of jobs in light of the high unemployment rate and the worsening economic conditions in the coastal enclave. On Feb. 16, Palestinian security forces stopped three young Gazans from crossing into Israel through the southern Gaza Strip. Four young men were also arrested Feb. 13 and interrogated by the Ministry of the Interior.
Despite a warning from the security apparatus in Gaza back in August that any Palestinian who attempts to cross over into Israel would be arrested and imprisoned, they keep trying.
Israeli concerns are also growing about the attempts by Gazans to sneak into its territory. The Israel Defense Forces arrested four young men attempting to cross into Israel Feb. 1 and another Feb. 2.
Al-Monitor contacted some of the young men who tried to sneak across the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip to learn their reasons for taking the risk.
Jamal (a pseudonym), 22, tried to cross with his friend for the first time in mid-2015 after fighting with his father over financial issues. But the Israeli forces arrested him upon crossing the eastern border of al-Maghazi governorate in central Gaza. After an interrogation, Israel determined him not to be a threat and sent him back to Gaza through the Erez crossing.
Jamal said, “When I was released and returned to the Gaza Strip, I was arrested and interrogated by the security forces in Gaza after which they warned me about attempting to do it again.”
He continued, “I have been trying to do it again ever since, because I do not see a future for myself here in Gaza. My parents forced me to get engaged to a relative of mine so I would get the idea of crossing the border out of my head, but I am not ready to get married.”
Ahmed (another pseudonym), 25, was arrested in 2015 by Israel for entering its territory without a permit and was released and returned to Gaza in late 2016 after serving two-thirds of a two-year sentence. He was freed for good behavior as part of an early release program for those believed not to pose a danger to Israel’s national security.
Ahmed told Al-Monitor, “My friend and I decided to cross over. We moved at the break of dawn, but after we jumped over the separation fence east of Jabalya province and walked just a dozen of meters, we found ourselves surrounded by Israeli soldiers.”
Ahmed noted that the soldiers insulted him and his companion, even though they explained that they had come in search of work in light of the difficult living conditions in the Gaza Strip. He said he would never think about attempting to enter Israel again unless he can be sure he will get away with it.
According to the Hebrew-language website Walla, 60 individuals attempted to sneak into Israel from Gaza in 2017, 10 of whom were planning to carry out armed attacks. Eight instances have been reported so far this year.
The spokesman for the Ministry of Interior in Gaza, Iyad al-Bozm, told Al-Monitor that most Gazans who attempt to escape to Israel are aged between 17 and 25, the category hardest hit by the economic conditions and blockade.
He said the ministry has made several efforts over the past few years to limit such incidents by increasing the number of border security points, intensifying national security patrols and issuing warnings that attempting to sneak into Israel will entail arrest, imprisonment or even being forced to work as Israeli spies.
Speaking about the obstacles complicating border control, Bozm said the national security forces are unable to get near the border fence between the Gaza Strip and Israel, where they risk being shot at by Israeli soldiers. Some border areas are agricultural or residential areas, creating opportunities to slip past troops deployed there.
He explained that if Israel arrests and releases these individuals first, the ministry will also pursue them and take appropriate measures such as sending them to prison, imposing fines or keeping a close eye on them. He acknowledged that while some young men do cross the border to provide intelligence to the Israelis, the majority’s goal is to find work. He said the ministry’s mission is to maintain Gaza’s internal security regardless of political and economic considerations, and there is cooperation between the national security forces and all Palestinian resistance factions deployed on the border, which hand over anyone who approaches the border to the authorities.
Political analyst Akram Atallah told Al-Monitor that the main motivation for such attempts is to escape the harsh life in Gaza. He called on the government to actually facilitate their attempts for the purpose of breaking the blockade.
“Hamas cannot play the role of security guard for Israel's borders, and we must encourage young people to sneak across and put pressure on Israel,” Atallah said.
Political analyst and political science professor at Al-Azhar University Asaad Abu Sharkh told Al-Monitor that the government is ignoring Gazans’ needs, pushing them to escape. He called on the government to seek solutions and improve the living conditions in Gaza.