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Israel returns thousands of Palestinian workers to Gaza as bombing continues

Netanyahu announced the expulsion hours earlier. The UN is ‘deeply concerned’ given the ‘alarming’ situation in the Strip

Israel devuelve a Gaza a miles de trabajadores gazatíes mientras continúa bombardeando la Franja
Palestinian workers who were in Israel during the Hamas attack on October 7, arrived Friday at the Rafah border with Gaza, after being returned by Israel to the Strip.IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA (REUTERS)
Antonio Pita

Israel has returned to Gaza on Friday thousands of Palestinian workers from the Strip who were in the country on the day the war began and were unable to return home. They were arrested en masse or forcibly transferred to the West Bank, amid a widespread assumption in Israel that these day laborers had been taking advantage of their jobs in Israel for months to gather intelligence that enabled the Hamas attack that killed 1,400 people, mostly civilians, on Oct. 7.

Lack of transparency and allegations of torture and mistreatment surround the entire process. “They put us in a camp that was not even worthy of animals. They tortured us with electric shocks and threw dogs on us,” one of them, Yasser Mostafa, told Agence France Presse once in Gaza. The images show them exhausted and without their belongings. Some of them have signs of wounds and are wearing blue armbands with a number to identify them.

“We have been in jail for 25 days, and today they brought us here. We don’t know what is going on in Gaza, we have no idea of the situation,” said another, Nidal Abed. “We used to serve them, work for them, in houses, in restaurants, and in markets, in return for the lowest wages, and despite that we have now been humiliated,” lamented Jamal Ismail, a worker from the Maghazi refugee camp in central Gaza, talking to Reuters.

The exact number of Gazans who crossed the border on Friday, mainly through the Kerem Shalom crossing (in the south of the Gaza Strip, by the Egyptian border), is unknown. In fact, the authorities are not providing any figures (nor are NGOs aware of them) as to how many were actually in Israel that day, as some had returned to Gaza for the weekend and others were in the West Bank. The only certainty is that, on October 7, 18,500 inhabitants of the Strip had permission to work in the country.

A week after the outbreak of the war, the deputy governor of Ramallah, Hamdan Barghuti, put the number of Gazans with work permits in Israel who were staying in sports centers, hostels or hotels in the West Bank at 3,200. Shortly afterward, Israeli TV Channel 12 put the number of those arrested at 4,000. The Ministry of Labor of the Palestinian Authority made a similar estimate. That is, more than 7,000 in total.

A Palestinian worker, who was in Israel during the Hamas attack on October 7, was greeted upon his arrival Friday after being returned by Israel to the Gaza Strip.
A Palestinian worker, who was in Israel during the Hamas attack on October 7, was greeted upon his arrival Friday after being returned by Israel to the Gaza Strip.IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA (REUTERS)

Six Israeli NGOs had on Thursday made an urgent petition to the Supreme Court over the apparent illegal detention of 568 Gazans held in at least two Israeli military bases in the West Bank, “against their will, cut off from the world, without access to legal representation and deprived of the right to a fair trial,” according to one of them, Gisha. In its statement, it suspected that they were being held in “inhumane” and “extremely harsh” conditions, and “subjected to extensive physical violence and psychological abuse.”

The forcible return came shortly after its approval at a meeting of the Israeli security cabinet. Last midnight, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that “Gaza workers who were in Israel on the day of the outbreak of the war will be returned to Gaza” and that there will never be “any more Palestinian workers” from the Strip.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed “deep concern” about this transfer. Its spokesperson, Liz Throssell, denounced at a press conference in Geneva that these laborers are being returned today “despite the alarming situation” in the Palestinian enclave, where Israeli bombardments are killing hundreds of people every day (mostly women and minors) and ground forces are already surrounding the capital. The death toll now exceeds 9,000 in less than a month.

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