After almost two decades of unemployment, Amin Warda, 59, finally got a permit to work in Israel in April this year.
Soon after receiving the permit, he traveled to Israel from the Nuseirat refugee camp in Gaza. However, he returned home after a fruitless two-day job search.
On 22 April, he again went to Israel, as his friend had secured him a job at a fish processing facility in the city of Kiryat Malakhi, east of Ashkelon.
“He was over the moon, as he would be able to pay his debts and help my younger brothers get married,” his son Abdul Qadir, 35, told The Electronic Intifada.
Amin, a father of six, worked at the fish processing plant on 23 April, a Sunday, and talked via cell phone to his family about his satisfying work conditions.
The next morning, after having stayed the night in Israel, he was on his way to work, accompanied by Abu Muhammad Miqdad, a co-worker at the fish plant who is also from Gaza.
Amin’s family said that, according to Miqdad, Amin was experiencing discomfort due to his work shoes. They still had about half a mile in their walk to the fish processing facility, so Amin rested on the sidewalk while Miqdad continued.
Hours later, when he did not appear at work, his employer and Miqdad went to the spot where Amin had stopped.
Miqdad told Amin’s family that a store owner in the area had said that Amin had been surrounded by people, fallen to the ground and was then taken away in an ambulance.
“We lost contact with him Monday evening,” Amin’s son Abdul Qadir said. “His phone was turned off.”
Amin’s brother Ziyad, who lives in the West Bank, hurried to Israel to look for him at the police stations and many nearby hospitals, but to no avail.
Cause of death “undetermined”
On Wednesday 26 April, Amin Warda’s sons went to the Palestinian Authority’s District Coordination Office in Gaza, which is responsible for “security coordination” with Israel.
The next morning, the family received a call from Israel, informing them that Amin’s body was at Israel’s National Center of Forensic Medicine (Abu Kabir) in Tel Aviv. The family is unsure who, exactly, made the call from Israel.
His body was transported to Gaza on Friday morning, 28 April, in a black body bag, along with the medical report, his ID and his money. But his phone was missing.
The Israeli medical report reads that Amin died on 24 April, but it did not provide a cause of death, only listing it as “undetermined,” in English. It also did not explain the bruises on his body.
The circumstances surrounding his death still remain unclear. The family believes that Israelis beat him to death based on the condition of his bruised body and the fact that he had disappeared for four days.
Yet concrete evidence to support their view is yet to emerge.
“Why were there notable bruises on his face, belly and back? Why did he disappear for four days? How was his body moved to Tel Aviv? Where was his phone this whole time?” Abdul Qadir asked angrily.
“He never suffered from [any health ailments],” he said. “He was a lovable person without any enemies.”
The story of Ahmad Ayad
Ahmad Ayad – a man in his thirties – had had Crohn’s disease, an inflammatory bowel condition, since he was 10. He sought treatment in the West Bank city of Nablus every year due to the lack of treatment options in Gaza, where he lived.
Following his medical appointments, he would often seek out work opportunities in the West Bank. Though he had a degree in accounting, he had been unable to find work in Gaza to support his three-member family.
In 2021, Ahmad worked in Israel throughout the year with a permit he had obtained, and he saved around $15,000.
In June 2022, he again traveled from Gaza to the West Bank city of Nablus for treatment.
A week after his treatment in June, he sought work in Israel. But this time, along with some other workers, he crossed into Israel through an opening of Israel’s wall near the West Bank town of Faroun, which is located inside the Tulkarm governorate.
Ahmad’s father Harab Ayad told The Electronic Intifada what happened next.
“Suddenly, a few Israeli soldiers caught him,” Harab said. “They brutally beat him.”
A Palestinian news agency reported that Israeli soldiers opened fire on the workers and beat Ahmad to death.
The Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates condemned the incident and described it as a heinous crime for which Israel should be held accountable.
The Palestinian Red Cross transported Ahmad to a hospital in Tulkarm before transferring him to Nablus.
“He talked to his wife when he was in the ambulance and told her what had happened,” Harab said.
That evening, the Nablus hospital notified his family of the death. The hospital did not conduct an autopsy but did issue a medical report that listed the cause of death as a heart attack, without mentioning the bruises on his body.
“It’s nonsense,” said Mahmoud, Ahmad’s brother. “Cardiac arrest for a 32-year-old man? There were severe bruises on his head, back and feet caused by clubbing.”
Mahmoud is a doctor and also attended the washing of the corpse before burial.
“The report writer must take responsibility,” he said. “The main reason for death is only defined [through an autopsy]. How did he write his report without dissecting his body or mentioning the bruises?”
Ahmad’s family filed a lawsuit against the health ministry in the West Bank through a private lawyer.
“We will sue Israel after getting the [accurate] medical reports,” Harab said.
In January 2021, news outlets reported that Israeli soldiers had killed a 48-year-old Palestinian worker named Fouad Jouda at Faroun. The soldiers fired tear gas at the Palestinians crossing through the opening, and Jouda suffocated on the gas and died of a heart attack.
Fear among Palestinian workers
Sami al-Amsi, head of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions, said that almost 18,000 Palestinians from Gaza currently work in Israel, as the average daily wage there is $67 compared to $9 in the Strip.
He noted that 13 workers from Gaza have lost their lives as a result of working in Israel since 2022.
“Injured workers don’t document their injuries due to the fear of jeopardizing their permits, although many of their rights are violated,” he said. “The alternative in Gaza is very tough.”
Another man – who spoke on condition of anonymity – sold vegetables in Gaza, making around $10 per day before getting a permit to work in Israel in February this year.
“Sometimes I would work for 10 shekels [around $2.75] to cover my daughter’s transportation fees to the university,” he said.
However, his life was supposed to significantly improve when he, after obtaining a permit, found work in Israel’s agricultural sector in March. The job would pay $69 per day for a period of 12 days.
“I was very happy as I would pay off my debts of 4,000 Jordanian dinars [$5,600] and rest,” he said.
Yet his life turned upside down after he broke his hip joint at work while loading boxes of fruit into a van. The injury left him immobile.
His employer transported him to his accommodation and refused to help him reach his sleeping quarters on the second floor.
“I had to wait two hours in the street for a worker to help me,” he said.
The next day, he talked to his employer about his severe pains, but his employer informed him that he was “not covered by insurance.”
Over the following two days, the man endured immense pain, relying on painkillers while he waited for a fellow Palestinian worker from Gaza to take him home.
Doctors in Gaza advised him to get a referral to the West Bank, despite the potential dangers due to his diabetes, or to abstain from movement for 60 days. He opted for the latter since he couldn’t get a referral.
“I’ve been sleeping on my bed without any movement or income since my injury,” the man said. “I talked to my employer about my condition, but he didn’t send me a shekel.”
Like countless Palestinian workers, the man did not even think of suing his employer, as he was afraid to lose his permit.
These are ever-present fears among Palestinians who work in Israel.
Now, amid the ongoing search for conclusive evidence surrounding Amin Warda’s untimely death, numerous workers in Gaza find themselves deeply disturbed by the incident as they fear a similar fate.
Asma Abu Amra is a writer and translator. Ahmed Al-Sammak is a journalist. Both are based in Gaza.