|Protesting outside the Red Cross in Gaza, |
September 22, 2014 [Image Source]
More than two weeks after a boat carrying migrants to Europe sunk off the coast of Malta, none of the bodies of Palestinians who are thought to have drowned at sea have been recovered by search teams. Eight Palestinians are known to have survived the Sept. 6 shipwreck that killed around 500 migrants, and they are being cared for between Italy, Greece, and Malta... Dozens of family members of the missing migrants on Sunday demonstrated outside the office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Gaza City, urging authorities to give them more information on the whereabouts of their missing loved ones. ["Gaza families mourn amid failure to find missing shipwreck victims", Ma'an, September 25, 2014]This is not a conventional ship-sinks-at-sea report. Nor does it appear to be an ordinary story about migration. We're also wondering why boat-people are called refugees everywhere else, but when it's about Palestinian Arabs who have embraced the 'refugees' label for the past 60+ years, they are called migrants? Why is there no name for the boat that carried 500+ people, the vast majority of whom are now dead? And why is the shipping company not named? Why does Ma'an's report skip providing even the most elementary background ?
The family members are protesting the tragedy, and getting media coverage for their agony, but why are those protests held in front of the Red Cross and not outside the locked gates of the shipping company, or the immigration ministry, or the prime minister's office in either Gaza or Ramallah? Why are they not demanding action by UNRWA?
What's actually happening in this odd story?
Since it involves the victimhood of Palestinian Arabs, it's almost certainly futile to look to Palestinian Arab sources for transparency or usable information. But the ever-reliable and very-well-plugged-in Khaled Abu Toameh, whom we have quoted here many times over the years, has uncovered some astonishing facts ["Palestinians and the "Death Boats" Scandal", Gatestone Institute, September 27, 2014]. By contrast, the reports we have seen in the Palestinian Arab media raise far more questions than answers.
Here's the core of the story: Palestinian Arabs, fed up with living under the Islamist Hamas regime, are paying extortionate sums of money to people-smugglers to get them out of the Gaza Strip and into Europe. It's a phenomenon that has been going on for some time, with "a dramatic increase since the end of the fighting in late August", according to Abu Toameh.
Hamas and its vast circle of parasitic thugs who prey, and grow wealthy, on the misery they have inflicted on the society in which they live [see "1-Oct-12: Hamas corruption: More-than-keeping-up with the Fatah kleptocrats" and "30-Aug-12: How close to hell is Gaza? Depends whom you want to believe"], are right at the center of this. But they are not the sole actor in this catastrophe. As Abu Toameh writes:
Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority bear responsibility for the tragedy of the Palestinian immigrants. 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 Palestinian Authority have spent the past seven years fighting over money and power. Now, the two parties are blaming each other for the tragedyAbu Toameh sketches out the key elements:
- Thousands of dollars are being paid to Hamas officials and Egyptian smugglers. The PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki quotes $1,000 as the price handed over to Hamas personnel at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. Abu Toameh says it's as much as $5,000 per person. [And we found an Al-Monitor report here quoting the price as "$3,000-$5,000 per head".]
- "Hamas and the Palestinian Authority... are now busy planning how to lay their hands on the millions of dollars that are supposed to go to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip..."
- Abu Toameh: "Most of the immigrants 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 Palestinian Authority official involved with the inquiry commission. "They operated like a real mafia..."
- He quotes sources who say "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."
- Hamas is denying any involvement with the exodus, but Abu Toameh says they have set up "special offices to register those wishing to start a new life in Europe", and "are providing the emigrants with forged visas and travel documents to enable them to enter Europe".
- Those boats did not sink for random, unfathomable reasons: "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."
On the afternoon of Wednesday, 10 September, the smugglers ordered the passengers to move to yet another boat... An argument ensued. Less than an hour later, another small boat suddenly appeared with the name of Al-Hajj Rizk – Damietta. Five to 10 men were on board, and they yelled at the passengers with an Egyptian accent. The small boat then began to deliberately ram the passengers’ ship, despite their screams and waving. The side of the ship ruptured, allowing in seawater, which mixed with oil and fuel. The men waited to make sure the refugees’ ship was sinking, laughing as they watched, then left. The Maltese Navy confirmed that the ship was in international waters at the time, about 300 nautical miles (555 km) southeast of Malta. Most of the passengers drowned relatively quickly. [Euromid]The UN High Commission for Refugees (again: not UNRWA) was looking into the possibility that there had been no fewer than five separate shipwrecks and that what was happening was "without any doubt the deadliest weekend ever in the Mediterranean" [during which] at least 500 were dead or missing in the last three days." That's according to a news report in The Guardian published on September 15, 2014.
And for those innocents who take at face-value the irresponsible, politically-based hyperbole of certain public figures with radical agendas (for instance "Noam Chomsky: My Visit to Gaza, the World's Largest Open-Air Prison"), here's how one Palestinian Arab resident of Gaza referred to the cash aspect in an Al-Monitor article from a week ago:
They tried to find jobs in Gaza to make a living, but there was nothing. They had no money for food, milk for the babies, diapers. They sold everything they had and managed to come up with $3,000. You know how it is. People in Gaza keep gold for a rainy day and that day has come. They were tempted by an offer to escape from Gaza through a tunnel and gave the smugglers everything. [Al-Monitor]We're waiting to see if any part of the mainstream news media frame these hundreds of Arab-on-Arab deaths as a story of Palestinian Arabs willing to sell up everything they have, to put everything including their lives on the line, just to get out from under the jihad of Hamas.