Over the past few weeks, dozens of Palestinian migrants from the Gaza Strip have been killed or injured while trying to reach Europe by sea.
At least 500 Palestinians have gone missing after the boats carrying them sank in the sea. Some reports have suggested that rival gangs deliberately sunk the boats. The gangs are fighting for the cash the Palestinians are prepared to pay to leave the Gaza Strip. Palestinians refer to the situation as their "Death Boats" scandal.
Relatives of missing Palestinian migrants who were on boats that sank near Malta demonstrate in Gaza, Sept. 22, 2014. (Image source: AFP YouTube video screenshot)
The Palestinian migrants are said to have paid thousands of dollars to Hamas officials and Egyptian smugglers to facilitate the exodus from the Gaza Strip.
Palestinian Authority [PA] Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki claimed that each Palestinian paid $1,000 to Hamas personnel at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. Others are believed to have paid $5,000 each to leave the Gaza Strip.
Malki said that preliminary investigations have revealed that the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have fallen victim to Hamas and Egyptian gangsters who managed to lure them with false promises.
According to various reports, some 13,000 Palestinians have already fled the Gaza Strip to Europe with the help of the gangsters. Most left through Hamas's smuggling tunnels or by bribing its security officials at the Rafah terminal.
Another 25,000 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip have applied to various European countries for immigration.
Although Hamas has denied any connection to the mass exodus, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip revealed that the Islamist movement had set up special offices to register those wishing to start a new life in Europe. They said that Hamas officials are providing the emigrants with forged visas and travel documents to enable them to enter Europe.
Hamas said this week that its security forces have arrested several suspects in connection with the illegal migration. But the movement refused to say whether the suspects were members of Hamas.
A Palestinian journalist in Gaza City said that Hamas has also used mosques to encourage Palestinians to immigrate to Europe. At one of the mosques in the southern Gaza Strip, a leading Hamas preacher told worshippers: "Those who are not happy can always emigrate to Europe. We do not force anyone to stay here."
Most of the migrants left the Gaza Strip through a two-kilometer tunnel belonging to a senior Hamas operative. Survivors told a Palestinian Authority Commission of Inquiry that when they reached the Egyptian side of the border, Egyptian gangsters intercepted them and robbed them of their money.
"Hamas gangsters worked in cooperation with gangsters on the Egyptian side of the border," said a senior PA official involved with the inquiry commission. "They operated like a real mafia, exploiting the predicament of the people, especially young men who were hoping to find jobs and better lives in Italy and other European countries."
Palestinians say that the emigration began long before the last military confrontation between Hamas and Israel. But the trend has witnessed a dramatic increase since the end of the fighting in late August.
"Hamas has failed to help the Palestinians ever since it came to power in 2007," said Ahmed Bader, whose son managed to leave the Gaza Strip through a tunnel one week after the end of the fighting. "There is nothing for the young people to do in the Gaza Strip: no jobs, no entertainment and no security. Young men who graduate from universities cannot find work if they are not members of Hamas."
Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority bear responsibility for the tragedy of the Palestinian migrants.
The two rival parties have failed to improve the living conditions of their people in the Gaza Strip. Instead of creating job opportunities for young men and women, Hamas and the PA have spent the past seven years fighting over money and power.
Now the two parties are blaming each other for the tragedy of the illegal migrants. And, of course, they are also blaming Israel for the fact that thousands of Palestinians no longer want to live under the PA or Hamas.
Hamas says that Palestinians are fleeing the Gaza Strip because PA President Mahmoud Abbas is a helpless 80-year-old man "who suffers from half the diseases of the universe."
The Palestinian Authority, for its part, says that the Palestinians are fleeing the "hell of Hamas."
Hamas and the PA are exchanging allegations and abuse while their people are being exploited emotionally and financially, then robbed, drowned and fed to sharks.
Hamas and the PA are now busy planning how to lay their hands on the millions of dollars that are supposed to go towards the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.
At last week's "reconciliation" talks between the two sides in Cairo, they completely ignored the tragedy of the Palestinian migrants. Once again, Hamas and Fatah officials exchanged kisses and hugs as they announced yet another agreement to implement a previous agreement. In fact, this is what Hamas and Fatah have been doing since 2006 – signing one reconciliation agreement after the other, without tangible results. Needless to say, so far none of these agreements has been implemented. Skeptics say the most recent agreement between Hamas and Fatah is also likely to remain ink on paper due to the wide gap between the two parties.
Hamas appears to be willing to bring the Palestinian Authority back to the Gaza Strip not because it has changed its ideology. Rather, Hamas wants to use the PA as a tool through which the international community channels funds to the Gaza Strip – a move that would ultimately empower Hamas to tighten its grip over the Palestinian population there.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas also seems to be willing to act as a bridge for channeling financial aid to the Gaza Strip. He is hoping that his government would be strengthened if it is given the authority to sign the checks and distribute the aid. Of course, he is also hoping that some of the funds would end up in the bank accounts of his loyalists and close aides.
But many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have obviously lost their confidence in both Abbas and Hamas. As the past few weeks have shown, hundreds, if not thousands, of Palestinians would rather risk their lives at sea than live under Palestinian governments and leaders whose only goal is to enrich their bank accounts.