Gazan’s death abroad shines light on middle-class exodus

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In this Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019, photo, relatives of Palestinian activist Tamer Sultan, 38 years old, mourn next to a picture of him on a wall in his family home during his funeral in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. (AP)
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In this Thursday, Aug. 29, 2019, photo, luggage of Palestinian travelers on the ground in from of the main gate of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, southern Gaza Strip. (AP)
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In this Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019 photo, relatives of Palestinian activist Tamer Sultan, 38 years old, set a picture of him in the middle of flowers during his funeral at his family home in the town of Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip. (AP)
Updated 08 September 2019

Gazan’s death abroad shines light on middle-class exodus

  • Sultan has left, following in the footsteps of thousands of other educated, middle-class Palestinians
  • The exodus has gathered pace in recent years

GAZA CITY: With a family of five, a two-story home and a pharmacy, Tamer Al-Sultan had a life many in the besieged and impoverished Gaza Strip would envy, but he still felt trapped.
Fed up with the heavy-handed rule of Hamas, Al-Sultan braved a treacherous journey in hopes of starting a new life in the West — only to die along the way. His death has drawn attention to the growing exodus of middle-class Gazans who can no longer bear to live in the isolated coastal territory.
It has also struck a nerve among many Palestinians because he appears to have fled persecution by Hamas, rather than the territory’s dire economic conditions following a 12-year blockade by Israel and Egypt, imposed when the Islamic militant group seized power.
Al-Sultan had vented about Hamas’ rule on social media and joined rare protests against a Hamas tax hike in March that were quickly and violently suppressed. Amin Abed, a friend who was arrested with Al-Sultan on three occasions over the protests, said they were doused with cold water and beaten with plastic whips.
So Al-Sultan left, following in the footsteps of thousands of other educated, middle-class Palestinians. The exodus has gathered pace in recent years, raising fears that Gaza could lose its doctors, lawyers, teachers and thinkers, putting the Palestinians’ dream of establishing a prosperous independent state in even greater peril.
He had planned to go to Belgium, where he had relatives, and bring his family after gaining refugee status. But his journey ended in Bosnia, where he died last month at the age of 38.
The exact cause of his death is not known. A purported hospital report from Bosnia circulated online says he had blood cancer, but the document has not been authenticated, and his family says he was in good health prior to the journey.
“He left Gaza because of the oppression,” his brother, Ramadan Al-Sultan, said at the family’s home in the northern town of Beit Lahiya. Mourners at the funeral last month marched with the yellow flags of the rival Fatah movement and chanted “Out, Out!” when Hamas supporters showed up.
Palestinians have long seen their steadfastness in remaining on the land as their best hope for one day gaining independence from Israeli military rule, and both the Western-backed Palestinian Authority and its rival Hamas are opposed to emigration. Hamas cleric Salem Salama recently issued a fatwa, or religious edict, against emigration, saying “those who leave our homeland with the intention of not coming back deserve the wrath of God.”
There is no official count of the number of Palestinians who have emigrated from Gaza. Israel does not control Rafah, the main exit point, and Hamas and Egypt do not track such figures.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says 104,600 Palestinians left Gaza in 2018 and 2019 and 75,783 returned. But it’s not clear whether all of the roughly 30,000 net departures are emigrants. Many Gazans leave for extended periods to study or work abroad, with the intention of returning.
“It’s certain that thousands have taken advantage of the opportunity to exit Gaza in the hopes of finding a better future, away from the poverty and feeling of hopelessness at home,” says Gisha, an Israeli rights group that advocates for Palestinian freedom of movement.
There is no official resettlement program, so many Palestinians resort to informal routes. Al-Sultan took one of the more popular ones.
He left through the Rafah crossing, which Egypt has kept open on a regular basis since May 2018 after years of largely restricting travel to humanitarian cases. From there, Al-Sultan went to Turkey, which welcomes Palestinian visitors. Then he took a rickety boat to Greece and worked his way up through the Balkans.
The International Organization for Migration says 1,177 Palestinians have crossed from Turkey to Greece by sea since the start of the year, the fourth most crossings by nationality. Over the past year, at least six Gazans have died on that route, including Al-Sultan, according to local media reports.
While Al-Sultan left to escape Hamas, many others have fled poverty and isolation. The blockade, along with Palestinian infighting , has devastated the local economy. More than half of Gaza’s labor force is unemployed and some 80 percent rely on food assistance. Daily power cuts last for several hours, and the tap water is undrinkable.
Mohammed Nassir graduated with a degree in information technology three years ago and opened a computer shop in his hometown of Beit Hanoun, but soon went out of business. He found a part-time job at an advertising company, but the firm shut down two months later.
Last week he waited outside the Rafah crossing, hoping his name would be called so he could board one of the three buses Egypt allows in every day.
“There is nothing left for us here,” he said. “No work, no present, no future, and above all, no hope.”
His uncle lives in Germany and is working on getting him a visa to travel there. Until then, he intends to sojourn in Egypt.
“If things don’t work out, I don’t know what I will do. But any place would be better than Gaza,” he said.
At the other end of the long and uncertain journey is Karim Nashwan, a prominent lawyer who left Gaza with his family in 2016 after his children graduated from university and now lives outside Brussels. He says he wishes he had left even earlier.
“My children decided to leave, and I agreed with them. They have no jobs, no safety, no future and no life in Gaza,” he said in a phone interview.
His wife and five children risked everything to travel the Turkey-Greece route before eventually flying onward to Belgium. He was able to join them later by traveling to Belgium legally under a family reunification program.
“The children learned the language and are integrating in the society,” he said. “We lost hope in Gaza.”


LIVE: Middle East renews travel warnings as cases of coronavirus increase in Iran

Updated 52 min 29 sec ago

LIVE: Middle East renews travel warnings as cases of coronavirus increase in Iran

  • Kuwait has not registered any new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours
  • Australian citizens and permanent residents returning from Iran would be required to self-isolate for 14 days

DUBAI: Governments in the Middle East renewed warnings for citizens and residents against traveling to coronavirus-hit countries, including Iran, where hundreds were tested positive and the death toll hitting 43 on Saturday.

15:07 - A World Health Organization delegation visited Kuwait and commended the efforts of Gulf states in airports against the spread of coronavirus, despite the high number of travelers.

14:23 - Qatar’s health ministry reported on Saturday the first case of coronavirus infection in the country, the state-run Qatar News Agency said.

The man is a 36 year old Qatari citizen, who returned from a trip to Iran, the ministry added.

14:06 - UAE’s ministry of education suspended nursery classes starting March 1, the announcement said on twitter.

School activities and trips will be suspended to prevent coronavirus spread, the ministry added.

13:00 - Iran’s death toll from the coronavirus outbreak has reached 43, a health official told state TV on Saturday, adding that the number of infected people across the country has reached 593.
“Unfortunately nine people died of the virus in the last 24 hours. The death toll is 43 now. The new confirmed infected cases since yesterday is 205 that makes the total number of confirmed infected people 593,” Kianush Jahanpur told state TV.

12:48 - Oman announced the first case of coronavirus recovery, the state news agency ONA reported on Saturday.

The remaining cases continue to receive treatments and are reported to be stable.

12:39 - Iran’s government spokesman will hold his weekly news conference online due to the outbreak of coronavirus in the country, which has the highest death toll outside China, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported on Saturday.
Iran warned on Friday of a “difficult week ahead” after health authorities said the death toll had reached 34 and another 388 people were infected with the coronavirus.

Also, Iranian MP Mohammad Ali Ramazani Dastak, who was elected as the representative for Astaneh-ye Ashrafiyeh, died on Saturday morning.

He is believed to have been tested positive for coronavirus and died at the hospital due to “influenza and chemical injuries” receveid during the Iran-Iraq war, state-run news agency ISNA reported.

11:31 - Saudi Arabia called on citizens and residents to postpone unnecessary travel to Lebanon amid concerns over coronavirus.

The Saudi embassy in Lebanon also asked its citizens, located in the Levantine country, to take precautions, avoid crowded places and reach out to the embassy whenever they need help.

Lebanon confirmed its fourth case of the virus on Friday and announced that it was closing all schools until March 8.

10:16 - Kuwait also asked its citizens to avoid traveling over concerns of coronavirus contamination, a health ministry official said at a media conference on Saturday.
The Gulf state has not registered any new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, she said.
The total number of people infected with the disease in Kuwait is 45, the health ministry said on Friday, which has reported no deaths.

9:51 - Australia will deny entry to all foreign nationals traveling from Iran due to the escalating outbreak of coronavirus in the Islamic republic, the government said on Saturday.
Foreign nationals traveling from Iran to Australia would need to spend 14 days in another country from March 1, Health Minister Greg Hunt said.
“There is likely at this stage a high level of undetected cases and therefore those cases won’t be intercepted or identified on departure from Iran,” Hunt said.
Australian citizens and permanent residents returning from Iran would be required to self-isolate for 14 days and the travel advice for Australians traveling to Iran has been raised to “do not travel.”
Health authorities on Saturday confirmed the number of cases of coronavirus in Australia was 25 after a 63-year-old woman returning from Iran became ill.
Iran has the highest death toll from the flu-like virus outside of China at 34, although World Health Organization (WHO) experts say the outbreak in the country could be worse than is currently known.
The rapid spread of the coronavirus has fueled fears of a pandemic, with multiple countries reporting their first cases this week as the WHO raised its global risk alert to “very high.”