"What the Israelis were unable to do – try to push the Palestinian out of the country – the internal strife is achieving," observes Birzeit University pollster Nader Said, who has monitored emigration attitudes among Palestinians for 12 years. Without getting into the accuracy of the first half of that statement, about Israel, the second part is true and worth noting. The disaster that is Hamas is causing Palestinians, who have among the most exaggerated of ties to the land, to up and out.
Joshua Mitnick of the Christian Science Monitor details the changes in "Fallout of Hamas's rule spurs Palestinian desire to flee." Nader Said says that the percentage of Palestinians willing to relocate used to hover under 20 percent. That figure reached 32 percent in September 2006. The percentage among 20- and 30-year olds jumps to 44 percent. And among males in that age category, it surges to over 50 percent.
Beyond the numbers, there's been a change in attitudes.
Among Palestinians, the mere mention of hijra - Arabic for emigration - is enough to stir up painful memories of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that left hundreds of thousands of Palestinians stranded outside the newly independent Israeli state. "Emigration means that you are escaping the occupation and that you don't want to liberate your land. It's a shame on you," says Abdel Nasser Najjar, a columnist for the Palestinian daily Al Ayyam. "Now it's different. There are many pressures: economic pressure and psychological pressure. Many people are speaking out." …
a trio of students admitted that the topic of emigration remains sensitive among family and friends. But at the same time they reject the suggestion that moving abroad constitutes any betrayal. "If I leave then I'll be lucky," says Birzeit law student Masaad Masaad, who hopes to move after graduating and a two-year internship. "The country hasn't provided anything for me. The government has failed ... No attention is given to the citizens."
Comment: The law of unintended consequences is at work in the Palestinian Authority, as elsewhere in the world. Who knew that Israel's allowing a terrorist organization to run for elections would lead to the depopulating of the Palestinian Authority? (October 24, 2006)
Nov. 20, 2006 update: More evidence of the same pattern in The Globe and Mail, where Mark MacKinnon reports from Ramallah on "Heavy-hearted Palestinians taking their chances abroad: Thousands leave the territories to escape politics and poverty—many bound for Canada." More than 10,000 Palestinians have left the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the past four months and 45,000 additional emigration requests are being evaluated by foreign states.
The Palestinian territories have never been an easy place to live, but even when violence was at its peak, most Palestinians refused to contemplate leaving, believing that would be giving Israelis what they wanted. Similar polls taken a year ago found only about 5 per cent were interested in emigrating. But now, more than ever before, Palestinians are giving up on their homeland. "I want to get out—to Canada, to Norway, to Switzerland, to Nigeria even," said Fadi el-Fahr, 24, an unemployed telecommunications engineer. "All I want is a job."
Nov. 27, 2006 update: As though nothing is happening, Hamas leaders responded with the same old formulations to Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert's offer to withdraw from large parts of the West Bank and engage in negotiations in exchange for Palestinians giving up their claim of a "right of return" to Israeli territory. Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad called the offer "a conspiracy, especially since Olmert is trying to bypass the core of the Palestinian cause, namely the right of return for the refugees." Musa Abu Marzouk of Hamas replied that "The Palestinian people will never give up this sacred right. Our people have been fighting for 58 years to achieve the right of return for all those who were expelled from their homeland. We reject any deal that does not recognize the right of return." For good measure, Fatah also turned down the offer. Abdullah Abdullah of Fatah on the West Bank said that "The right of return cannot be ignored or surrendered."
Dec. 9, 2006 update: Sarah El Deeb provides more information on this exodus for the Associated Press in "More Palestinians Flee Homelands."
A technician armed with $7,000 in savings and a tourist visa plans to seek political asylum in Europe. Travel agents report a brisk demand for visas to Cuba, one of the few places that welcomes Palestinians. More than 20 factories have moved out of Gaza in recent months. Driven by fear of civil war and increasingly bleak economic prospects, Palestinians are fleeing their violence-wracked lands in growing numbers. Many are skilled and educated, and are leaving behind an increasingly impoverished and fundamentalist society. The brain drain reverses a trend of the 1990s when, fueled by peace hopes, thousands of well-to-do Palestinians returned from the diaspora to the West Bank and Gaza, building homes and setting up businesses. …
Businesses are also leaving. More than 20, including clothing and plastic factories, have moved to Egypt or Jordan in the past six months – as many as in the previous six years – taking 12 percent of Gaza's scarce jobs with them, according to Gaza's Federation of Industries. In September alone, 35 factory owners applied to relocate their machinery abroad, said Mohammed al-Kidwa, governor of Gaza City. Some who left came back because of the difficulties of doing business abroad.
Of particular interest are the two destinations of choice, Canada and Cuba:
Many countries make it difficult for the stateless Palestinians to obtain even tourist visas, because they often overstay them and obtain citizenship by marrying nationals of their host countries. Two popular destinations for Gazans are Canada, which still offers legal immigration, and Cuba, which imposes few restrictions on Palestinian travelers. Those with tourist visas to Cuba often don't plan to go there. Instead, they get off in transit at a European airport, rip up their Palestinian travel document and seek asylum.
Travel agencies in Gaza arrange for fictitious invitations, hotel bookings and Cuban visas for their clients, a Palestinian security official said. The cost of the service has gone up from $200 to $1,500 because of the high demand and increasing risk, the official said. Palestinian, Egyptian and European officials have begun to tighten restrictions in an attempt to stem the flow. Travel agent Mohammed Mouin said 65 of his clients with Cuban visas were sent back from Egypt, but that many more are trying. "Traveling to Cuba has become a fad," he said.
Comment: The article also includes this throw-away line: "Emigration from Gaza, in particular, has picked up. Life in the fenced-in strip has become increasingly difficult following Israel's pullout last year." Combined with the point about life under Hamas rule being unbearable, this suggests that, ironically, the dual Israeli folly of permitting a terrorist organization to win an election and withdraw unilaterally from Gaza has inadvertently led to the reduction in the number of its enemies.
July 12, 2010 update: A poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion finds that, in theory anyway, Palestinians have gone back to their disapproval of emigration:
14) Do you think that the Palestinians must renounce their right of home return, which Israel will never accept, in exchange for having an independent Palestinian state and the conclusion of a peace deal with Israel?
1. Yes, the Palestinians must do that 14.0
2. No, they shouldn't do that even if the price would be the non- conclusion of a peace deal with Israel 81.7
3. I have no opinion 4.3
15) If the Palestinian leadership would waive the right of home return in exchange for a financial compensation, would you accept or refuse that?
1. I would accept that 13.1
2. I would refuse that 81.8
3. Don't know 5.1