Dying to leave Gaza

Abed Rabbo al-Nabahin holds a photograph of his son Muhammad, who is imprisoned by Israel. 

Mohammed Al-Hajjar The Electronic Intifada

One claim often made by Israel is that it “disengaged” from Gaza in 2005. The treatment of Muhammad al-Nabahin illustrates why that claim is dishonest.

In September 2018, Muhammad, then aged 19, and relative Khaled al-Nabahin, then 16, were approximately 250 meters from Gaza’s boundary with Israel. They were taking part in a protest when Israeli troops stationed at the boundary opened fire at both of them.

After attacking them, the Israeli soldiers arrested both Muhammad and Khaled. They were taken into Israel.

Muhammad’s father, Abed Rabbo al-Nabahin, later learned from the International Committee of the Red Cross that Muhmmad was being held in Ashkelon prison. Muhammad was charged with possessing a weapon, trading in weapons, breaching the boundary fence and throwing stones toward Israeli soldiers.

His family have argued that the charges were unreasonable.

“How could he be a weapon dealer when he was only 19?” Abed Rabbo asked. “That doesn’t make any sense.”

The charge of possession, the family claims, was based on a photograph of Muhammad holding a gun which the Israeli authorities found on his Facebook page.

“It was just for show,” said Abed Rabbo. “People like to take pictures with weapons.”

According to Abed Rabbo, the weapon in question was owned by a relative. He said the relative was licensed by Gaza’s interior ministry to keep the gun for self-defense purposes.

Muhammad was sentenced to 28 months imprisonment by an Israeli court. He remains behind bars.

Khaled was jailed for a year.


Muhammad’s parents fear that other members of the family could be attacked. They live in al-Bureij refugee camp, which is less than a kilometer from the Gaza-Israel boundary.

“My family and I were born and raised here in this area,” said Abed Rabbo, Muhammad’s father.

The boundary area between Gaza and Israel is a highly dangerous place for Palestinians.

Over the past few years, the area saw regular protests named the Great March of Return. Israel repeatedly opened fire on participants, as well as on medics and journalists.

A total of 217 Palestinians have been killed during the Great March of Return since the protests began on 30 March 2018. They include 48 children and nine people with disabilities.

Living under a full blockade, some Palestinians have tried to flee Gaza by crossing its boundary fence. Those captured by Israel while doing so have paid a heavy price.

Al-Mezan, a human rights group, has interviewed 91 children who were arrested while trying to cross the boundary fence between 2015 and last year.

In 66 of those cases, the Israeli forces fired live ammunition at the children before arresting them. Thirty-three of the children were beaten during their arrest and 27 had military dogs unleashed on them.


In January this year, Israel killed three teenagers at the boundary fence.

Muhammed Abu Mandeel, 17, was among them.

Israel claimed that he and the other two teens hurled an explosive device toward soldiers as they attempted to cross the fence. But Muhammad’s mother, Duaa, disputes Israel’s version of events. She said that Muhammad wanted to enter Israel so that he could look for work.

“The boys were executed, even though the soldiers clearly were not in any danger from them,” Duaa said. “We heard the Israeli allegation that the boys hurled grenades. But my son didn’t even know how to use weapons.”

Israel has retained Muhammad’s body and the bodies of the other two teens, Salem al-Naami and Mahmoud Saed.

Abdel Nasser Ferwana from the Palestinian Authority’s Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs said that people trying to flee Gaza are generally aged between 14 and 30. In many cases, they wish to reach the city of Beersheba or other areas inside Israel where large numbers of Palestinians live.

The people fleeing hope that they will be able to find work with help from relatives or friends living inside Israel.

“Young people and even children are risking their lives,” said Ferwana. “For them, taking risks and facing death isn’t unusual. They want to see life outside the Gaza Strip.”

Israel does not distinguish between adults and children if it catches them crossing the boundary, according to Ferwana.

In October 2015, Wissam Iseifan was, in his own words, aged 25 “with no job and no life.”

In his desperate situation, he sought to enter Israel so that he could look for a job there. Yet when he tried to cross the boundary fence, he was arrested by Israeli forces.

Iseifan said that he had military dogs set upon him during his arrest. He was also badly beaten.

The beatings continued after he was brought to prison. Despite the injuries inflicted on him, Iseifan was denied medical care.

“I get distressed whenever I recall that experience,” he said. “I still have back pains as a result of the beatings.”

Amjad Ayman Yaghi is a journalist based in Gaza.