GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Tens of thousands of Palestinians lined up outside chambers of commerce across the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, hoping to get permits to work inside Israel after rumors circulated that more would be issued to residents of the Hamas-ruled territory.
Gaza's more than 2 million Palestinian residents have lived under a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade since the Islamic militant Hamas seized power from rival Palestinian forces in 2007, and jobs are scarce. Israel says the closures are needed to contain the militant group, while critics view it as a form of collective punishment.
An Israeli security official said authorities decided to allow in 7,000 merchants in September but were only able to issue 4,500 permits. They are now taking applications for the remaining 2,500, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
Sharif Al-Faqawi, one of the workers lining up for a permit, said he shares a single room with his wife and eight children.
“We hope the crossings will be open so we can work and feed our children,” he said. “When I go north (into Israel), at least I will be able to feed them and build a future for them.”
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since 2008, the most recent in May. Hamas has demanded the easing of the blockade as part of an informal cease-fire that Egypt is trying to broker. Israel has lifted some restrictions since the end of the 11-day May war while warning that any broader easing depends on continued calm.
Hamas recently organized a workshop to discuss the management of natural resources in what is now Israel once the militant group “liberates” historical Palestine. Critics saw the event as evidence of Hamas' disconnection from the daily hardships endured by Palestinians in Gaza, where employment hovers around 50%.
Half of Gaza's population lives in poverty, travel outside the territory is heavily restricted, tap water is undrinkable and residents experience daily power outages that can last several hours. Nearly 40,000 houses were damaged or destroyed in the most recent war, according to the Ministry of Public Works.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank also work in Israel, mainly in construction and agriculture. Wages are much higher in Israel, in part because of Israel's 54-year military occupation of the territory.
Israel stopped issuing work permits to Gazans after the Hamas takeover.
A few thousand senior businessmen retained their entry permits to Israel, and in recent years, Israel has quietly expanded that program to allow Palestinians from Gaza to work in construction, agriculture and manufacturing.
Associated Press writer Joseph Krauss in Jerusalem contributed to this report.