Palestinians from Gaza trapped in the West Bank: “I just want to go back, to live with my family or die with my family” | International

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Abed used to spend weekends (Friday and Saturday) with his family in his native Gaza. From Sunday to Thursday, he worked in a candy and cookie factory in Israel. He is one of the 21,000 day laborers in the Strip with a special entry and work permit that - the Israeli authorities thought at the time - solved two problems at once: it covered the least appreciated jobs with cheap labor and dissuaded Hamas from seeking an escalation of violence, because attacks always imply the closure of the border crossing and too many families depend on that livelihood, which does not exist in the Strip.

Last Saturday, however, he and nine other Gazan workers had stayed in the modest apartment in the city of Holon, near Tel Aviv, to collect in hand when the Sukkot holiday ended. They woke up to the news that Hamas and Islamic Jihad had launched an unprecedented attack from Gaza (which ended up being the deadliest day in Israeli territory since 1948, with 1,400 dead and more than 100 kidnapped) and the certainty that they had already They would never be looked at the same.

“We stayed at home. We were afraid to go out in case someone attacked us. We received news [falsas] that a Jewish employer had killed an employee and cut him into pieces,” explains this 28-year-old Gazan at the IBSA sports center in the West Bank city of Ramallah, full of mattresses hastily installed to accommodate hundreds of people like him. who cannot return to their place of residence or stay at their place of work.

They called a taxi to go to the West Bank. They sent the driver the location via WhatsApp. “He told us: 'I'll be there in 15 minutes.' Ten minutes later, a large group of police broke down the door without knocking, made us lie on the ground, and handcuffed and arrested us. I don't know how many there were because he couldn't lift his head off the ground. A police officer insulted me and said that if she did it she would put a bullet between my eyes. They stepped on our heads as they passed. Then, in the van, they hit me,” she says, while showing wounds and the rest of the group nodding.

Abed assures that, after being detained for 12 hours, the police left them in a field in the West Bank, without returning their identity documents and cell phones. They walked until they came across another Palestinian, to whom they explained the situation and he took them in his car. He shows a brand new phone. They have bought it among the 10, he says, to be able to know how their families are doing in a Gaza that has been bombed and without electricity, fuel and food supplies since Monday by order of the Israeli Minister of Defense, Yoav Gallant. Connection cuts complicate the task and make you nervous.

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Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank city of Nablus, this Friday.
Alaa Badarneh (EFE)

The sports center has improvisedly become the main reception center in Ramallah. 600 people slept there this Thursday, with no more bathrooms than those in a sports facility and no more food first thing in the morning than hummus, pita breads and bottles of mineral water. There are many types of mattresses and blankets because, for the most part, ordinary people brought them, in response to an appeal that circulated on social networks, explains Nasir Abu Mariam, from the Palestinian youth NGO Sharek. “There was a rumor that that was where they were going. We expected to find a few dozen. When we arrived, we were surprised by all the people there,” he adds.

Many report that employers owe them money and have stopped answering the phone. It is a type of intermediary whose legal requirement has been criticized by workers' rights NGOs. “He owes me 3,000 shekels (720 euros). "I called him, he didn't pick up and now my phone always seems to be off," says Al Qandil, 46 years old and with - he claims - 36 shekels in his pocket and a debt of 1,200 for the taxi to get to the West Bank. All those interviewed recount excessive payments (knowing they were excessive) to taxi drivers to take them to the West Bank. On the Saturday of the mass attack, any other means of transportation was too long or dangerous.

“I have fire in my heart”

“The first thing we thought about was returning to our families, but the employer told us that we were prohibited from going to work or leaving home,” explains Taha Mokan from the same sports center. After three days of waiting and confusion, they took two taxis from northern Israel to arrive directly at Kalandia, one of the military checkpoints between Jerusalem and Ramallah. Omar Mayed Malat is part of that group and only thinks about being with his wife and his four children. “I have fire in my heart to see what is happening in Gaza. I just want to go back there, to live with my family or die with my family. I don't feel like eating or sleeping here. Every time the phone rings I think it's bad news,” he says.

In the entire West Bank there were 3,200 Gazans with work permits in Israel this Thursday. And the other almost 18,000? “We have no idea. We don't know if they are arrested, free, or in Gaza," Hamdan Barghuti, deputy governor of Ramallah, confessed at the venue, while a bus brought another 50 Palestinians carrying large grocery bags with letters in Hebrew. “The majority don't have money. The priority now is to distribute them to different governorates and give them food and drink,” he pointed out.

The distribution is problematic. Officials suggest cities, such as Nablus, Jenin or Tulkarem, where more incidents with settlers and military incursions are recorded. “At first the Authority [Palestina] He told us he would take us to hotels. Now they are moving us to the area of ​​greatest tension,” protested Amyad, 35 years old.

Fights – over food or a misunderstanding – happen. The Gazans (in day labor attire) rebel when the representatives of the Palestinian Authority (in shirts and accompanied by police with rifles) insist on the need to immediately vacate the sports center to be distributed to other parts of the West Bank for health reasons. and to make room for those who are on the way. The scene shows the deep discredit of the Palestinian Authority, which manages the cities of the West Bank and is perceived by many Palestinians as a kind of subcontractor of Israel, corrupt and ineffective.

“You can't stay. There are another 1,500 on the way and it is not healthy to sleep all together, without showers. There may be viruses. We cannot allow the occupation [israelí] make you live like this, crowded together like animals!”, Barghuti shouts in a rallying tone over the loudspeaker, and the Gazans look at him between anger and indifference. “With what you have stolen and now you come with this…”, one of them says.

“I don't have an identification document. How do you want me to leave here? Furthermore, the settlers are attacking people. Can you guarantee my safety on the way from Ramallah to Nablus? No, of course not,” Ali shouted at a police officer, aware that it is the Israeli army – and not the Palestinian Authority – that controls that road.

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