Amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, a group of Gazan workers who were employed in Israel now find themselves stranded in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Their lives have taken an unexpected turn, with their homeland under siege and their families living in fear of Israeli bombings.
One of these workers is Abderrahman Balata, a 42-year-old electrician. Fearing retaliation, he made the difficult decision to leave his job in Tel Aviv, along with three other colleagues, taking a taxi to reach the West Bank.
Gaza, their home, is under a tight Israeli blockade, preventing them from returning.
In a governorate building in Ramallah and Al-Bireh in the West Bank, dozens of workers from Gaza are patiently waiting to be relocated to temporary accommodation.
Governor Laila Ghannam has expressed, “They are our people, and we cannot abandon them during these exceptional circumstances. We aim to provide them with the basic necessities of life.”
Many of these workers are hesitant to speak with the media, fearing the potential loss of their work permits. However, some have shared their stories.
Bassem Katarana, 41, received the devastating news that his 23-year-old son, Suhail, had been killed in an air raid on the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza.
Katarana recounted his experience of being awakened by the Israeli army, who raided his workplace in the town of Ghadira. They confiscated his phone and documents, took his fingerprints, returned his papers, and left him at a checkpoint on the road to Ramallah. Katarana’s wife is stranded in Arish, Egypt, and he hopes to return to his family in Gaza to bid a final farewell to his son.
The protracted conflict has left these workers in dire straits. The Gaza Strip, home to around 2.3 million people, has been under Israeli blockade since Hamas assumed control in 2007, resulting in high unemployment rates and making it extremely challenging for these workers to return to their homeland.
The Palestinian Labour Office has reported the expulsion of dozens of Palestinian workers from their jobs in Israel since the conflict began. Labour official Karim Mardawi disclosed that “we started seeing large numbers of workers arriving at checkpoints on Saturday, leaving Israel.”
These workers were abruptly relocated, sometimes without proper compensation or support. Jawad, a 43-year-old worker, described how their employer locked them in a room in Tiberias for safety, then placed them on buses to be sent to the West Bank, without providing any money. When they requested their wages, they faced threats from their employer.
Jawad’s journey took him through checkpoints and regions that have witnessed recent violence, adding to their distress. He spoke of the humiliation they felt and their yearning to reunite with their families in Gaza, even if it meant sharing their tragic fate.
“It’s better if I’m there with them, so we can face the end together,” he said.
As the conflict continues, the stories of these Gazan workers reflect the human toll of the ongoing hostilities between Israel and Hamas.