Palestinian youths prefer to spend time in Israeli prison than to live in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Over the past two months, more than 20 Palestinians have been arrested while trying to cross from the Gaza Strip into Israel, according to Palestinian sources. A number of Palestinians have also been killed or wounded during their infiltration attempts.
The increase in the number of Palestinians who try to infiltrate Israel comes as Egypt continues to keep the Rafah border crossing closed. It also comes as the power struggle between Hamas and Fatah intensifies, hampering international efforts to rebuild the Gaza Strip and improve Palestinians' living conditions in the aftermath of last summer's military confrontation with Israel.
The situation has become so miserable in Gaza that some Palestinian youths are prepared to endanger their lives by approaching the border with Israel.
Palestinian sources note that 12 Palestinians recently managed to cross the border from the Gaza Strip into Israel.
The Palestinian news website, Al-Watan Voice, interviewed two of the youths who embarked on the dangerous adventure. The two young men said they prefer the "comfort" of Israeli prisons to life in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Ahmed al-Rai, 19, never made it into Israel. As he approached the security buffer zone along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, he was shot and moderately wounded by IDF troops. Al-Rai has lost a leg and is now lying in bed at the Nasser Hospital in the Gaza Strip.
"I wanted to escape to Israel so that I would be imprisoned there," he recounted. "It would have been a relief for me and better than the problems in the Gaza Strip. I thought it would be easy to infiltrate the border, but now my life has become even more miserable."
The second youth, who was identified as 16-year-old Rabi, was more fortunate. After he managed to cross the border into Israel, he was held in detention for three months before being sent back home.
"I'm sad that I'm back in the Gaza Strip," Rabi said. "I went through happy times [in Israeli detention], where I had food, calm and good work, although I did not receive a salary. Those were unforgettable days where I had delicious food that we don't have in the Gaza Strip."
He said that when the interrogator asked him about the reason he wanted to come to Israel, he responded: "The situation in the Gaza Strip is very difficult. My father, who once worked in Israel, told me it was beautiful there."
The last war between Hamas and Israel has resulted in a sharp rise in the number of Palestinians seeking to escape from the Gaza Strip. Last September, scores of Palestinian migrants attempting to flee the Gaza Strip died after their boat capsized in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of northern Egypt.
But the closure of the Rafah border crossing and strict Egyptian security measures in Sinai, following a spate of terror attacks on Egyptian soldiers, have forced some Palestinians to seek work and a better life in Israel. Thousands of Palestinians remain stranded on both sides of the Rafah border crossing despite repeated appeals to the Egyptian authorities to prevent a humanitarian catastrophe.
An Egyptian military source announced this week that the Egyptian Army has destroyed more than 60 smuggling tunnels along the border with the Gaza Strip since October 28. This move has also aggravated the situation in the Gaza Strip, especially given the fact that the tunnels were also being used to smuggle food and other basic needs, and not only weapons.
Hamas claims that there is no phenomenon of Palestinians fleeing to Israel. A spokesman for the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry said that security forces in the Gaza Strip were working to prevent Palestinians from crossing into Israel.
But what Hamas is not prepared to admit is that it is responsible for the misery of the Palestinians living under its rule in the Gaza Strip. More than three months after the military confrontation with Israel, Hamas has failed to offer the Palestinians any hope.
"Hamas has destroyed the dreams of young Palestinians," remarked a veteran Palestinian journalist in the Gaza Strip. "Hamas has destroyed the future of young people here."
Not only is Hamas unwilling to accept any kind of responsibility, but it continues to hold everyone else but itself responsible for the tragic situation in the Gaza Strip. Hamas continues to hold Israel, the Palestinian Authority and UNRWA responsible for the grievances of the Palestinians.
Instead of working to improve the living conditions of its people, Hamas is continuing to prepare its next war against Israel. In recent weeks, Hamas increased its rocket and mortar firing tests out to sea, according to an Israeli military source.
The tragic case of the two Palestinian youths who said they prefer Israeli jail to life in the Gaza Strip shows that some Palestinians are no longer willing to tolerate Hamas's deadly adventures and oppression. That is why the coming weeks and months could see a rise in the number of Palestinians knocking on Israel's door and asking to be imprisoned rather than return to the Gaza Strip.