Tuesday, September 28, 2021
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For Gazans, fence with Israel is a leap into the unknown

From his spartan room in the Maghazi refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, 18-year-old Abdalla al-Haddad could glimpse a narrow chance at a better life: it was less than a mile and a 3-1/2-metre fence away.

So on a chilly night in February, he and a friend made a dash for it, scrambling over the heavily secured steel and wire barrier that separates Gaza from Israel.

“I was not thinking,” he told Reuters, back in the three-room home he shares with 11 family members.

“Ten minutes after we jumped, illumination rounds were fired, there was a lot of gunfire and we were surrounded by Israeli army forces, who arrested us,” he said.

He spent the next three months in an Israeli jail.

“I was desperate because there is no work in Gaza,” he explained, describing his daily life as sleeping and playing football, with little prospect of finding a job.

While it is by no means a mass phenomenon, a rising number of Palestinians are trying their luck at jumping the fence from Gaza into Israel. Barely a week goes by without a report from Israeli security forces of another attempt.

The Israeli military says it has caught 130 in the past year. It won`t provide comparative figures, but the anecdotal evidence from Gazans and organisations that monitor the trend is that numbers have been climbing steadily.

Poverty and the lack of prospects in Gaza are driving young people to take ever-greater risks. That is particularly true after last year`s war between Israel and Hamas, in which the economy and infrastructure took another devastating hit.

In May, the World Bank said Gaza`s economy was in the worst state in the world, with the world`s highest unemployment rate at 43 percent, rising to nearly 70 percent among 20-24 year olds. Those figures do not fully express the human toll for 1.8 million residents confined to an area of 160 sq km (60 sq miles), unable to leave without permits, its report added.

Palestinians in Gaza, unlike those in the West Bank, are not permitted to work in Israel, which stopped issuing work permits to Gazans when the strip fell under control of Hamas, designated a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.

The lure of work is strong. A day`s labour on a construction site without a work permit in Israel can pay around 250 shekels ($66), according to Israeli watchdog Workers Hotline. In Gaza, it would be a fifth of that.

But jumping the fence comes with huge risks.

Israeli law allows punishment of up to 5 years in jail for unarmed infiltration across its borders. Crossing with a weapon risks up to 15 years in jail and crossing with a firearm or explosives can carry a life sentence.

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