The Electronic Intifada 21 March 2023
Sabreen Wael Abu Jazar had just got married.
The wedding had taken place in Turkey during February. Sabreen, 23, had traveled there – via Egypt – after leaving her hometown of Rafah in southern Gaza.
She and her new husband – also from Gaza – were only able to spend three weeks together. He had to leave for Belgium, where the couple were hoping to build a better life.
As Sabreen did not have the identity documents needed for entering the European Union, she would have to undertake a highly dangerous journey so that she and her husband could be reunited.
The journey proved fatal.
On 1 March, news broke that at least two people had drowned when a boat sank off Kos, a Greek island.
It soon emerged that Sabreen was one of the victims.
The boat was reported as being “overloaded” and carrying 27 migrants, most of whom were rescued. It had sailed from the Turkish coast.
According to Sabreen’s family, her voyage had been arranged with a people smuggler.
“My daughter was an innocent girl,” her mother Suha said. “Her one and only dream was to be with her husband and to become a mother. She wanted to have kids and raise them in a peaceful environment, away from Israel’s wars.”
Suha had spoken to Sabreen the day before her voyage. “She asked me to pray for her,” Suha said.
So far, the family has not been able to organize a funeral for Sabreen. Her body has not been returned to Gaza.
Mahmoud Abu Tair, a 27-year-old from the Khan Younis area of Gaza, was on the same boat as Sabreen. He also drowned.
A media studies graduate, Mahmoud wanted to be a journalist.
“My son left no stone unturned to find work in Gaza,” said his father Bakr. “But he did not have any luck. That was the main reason why he emigrated. He first traveled to Turkey and worked for a [clothing] company there. But the working hours were long there and the pay was terrible.”
Like Sabreen, Mahmoud was hoping to reach Belgium. . “Mahmoud talked to us the previous day,” said Bakr. “He assured us that everything will be ok. We tried to persuade him to come back to Gaza. But he was determined. He insisted that he needed to work hard so that he could get married and have a family.”
Mahmoud’s body has also not yet been returned to his family.
“My only wish is to have his body brought back to Gaza,” said Bakr. “I want to hug him so tightly and pray for him.”
Bakr fully understands why his son left Gaza.
“Israel has imposed a blockade on us for 16 years now,” he said. “Israel’s policies have killed our dreams of a brighter future. Emigration has become the only solution for young people looking for a better life.”
Almost 74 percent of people aged between 19 and 29 in Gaza are unemployed, having completed high school or college, according to the latest data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
Sabreen Wael Abu Jazar and Mahmoud Abu Tair were by no means the first Palestinians to drown near the Greek coast.
Three other people from Gaza died off Kos last year. The three men had decided to swim from Turkey to Greece as they could not afford the fees charged by people smugglers.
Without a dramatic improvement in Gaza’s economic situation, it appears certain that more young people will drown as they try to reach the European Union, a bloc which continuously displays cruelty toward migrants.
Following his death, Mahmoud Abu Tair’s family and friends have focused on a Facebook post he wrote in November 2021.
The post could be interpreted as Mahmoud predicting he would drown one day. It was written as a message to the sea “after news of my death is announced.”
Mahmoud wrote that he did not want to taste seawater, as he was hungry rather than thirsty.
“I am just a man, who has been worn out by fatigue, my face mapped with wrinkles,” he wrote. “All my life I have suffered from poverty.”
Yasmin Abusayma is a freelance writer and translator from Gaza, Palestine.