Palestinians live as “ghosts” in Gaza

October 20th, 2007 | Posted in Corporate Media, Economy, Palestine, Politics, Resistance, Solidarity

    Reuters Jabalya, Gaza Strip, October 19th. By Nidal al-Mughrabi


    Photo: Kuolemaki Gaza City.

Officially, Mahmoud Jnaid does not exist. The 25-year-old Palestinian almost made that a reality earlier this month when he doused himself with petrol and tried to set himself alight.

Jnaid is one of about 54,000 displaced Palestinians who returned to Gaza and the West Bank from abroad after an interim peace accord in 1993, but still have no identity cards because Israel refuses to approve them. Following years of silence, they recently started holding weekly protests in Hamas-run Gaza to demand the documents, which they need to travel as well as for daily basics like opening a bank account or getting a driving licence.

“I am Mr Nobody,” said Jnaid, who, at one of the protests, doused himself in petrol and tried to set himself alight before onlookers overpowered him.

“When I poured the petrol on my body I felt life was the same as death,” he said as he sat next to his wife and children.

Jnaid was born in Jordan after his family fled their home in the coastal strip after the 1967 war with Israel. He returned to Gaza in 1995 at the age of 13 but still has no ID card.

In a stroke of bitter irony, Jnaid’s brother was finally granted identity papers two weeks after he was killed in a protest against Israeli soldiers in Gaza.

“It was worthless, they recognised him only when he died,” Jnaid said.

Israel has closed Gaza’s borders to everything but humanitarian supplies since Islamist group Hamas seized control of the territory, home to 1.5 million people, in June and ousted its secular Fatah rivals. The economy is in meltdown.

“I have to take care of six children now and I am out of a job for three months,” said Jnaid, an unemployed carpenter.


Israel granted identity cards to some 3,500 Palestinians in the West Bank earlier this month as part of efforts to bolster Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah ahead of an Israeli-Palestinian conference on statehood.

But there is little hope the goodwill will extend to Gaza, which Israel recently branded an “enemy entity” because militants in the territory regularly fire rockets into the Jewish state.

Under the 1993 peace accords, Israel must approve all Palestinian personal documents, including ID cards.

Jnaid says living in Gaza is like being in jail. His uncle and a younger brother died a few months ago in neighbouring Egypt, but Jnaid could not attend their funerals.

When he asked for permission to travel to Israel or Egypt for eye surgery, his request was rejected.

“Those in Israeli jails live in small cells, I am too a prisoner but in a large room called Gaza,” Jnaid said.

Hussein al-Sheikh, head of the Palestinian Civil Affairs government office in Ramallah, which negotiates with Israel over the issue of ID cards and travel permits, said there was no sign Israel would soften their position on documents for Gazans.

Jnaid said he feels like a ghost.

“Not only a ghost, I do not exist. Everywhere I go people ask for an identification card and I do not have one.”

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