Crisis Reporting Resource

In Samos, on the run from Hamas

A Palestinian flees to Greece and seeks political asylum. He claims that he is being pursued by Hamas. iMEdD gained access to the case file.

This article, published by iMEdD, is available for republication under a Creative Commons license.

Are you ready? – God willing. – Are there any documents you wish to submit? – Here, these are notices sent by Hamas. Also, there is a document stating that I am wanted by Hamas […] and this is my Palestinian identity card from Gaza. 

The story unfolds in December 2017; in other words, at an unexpected time long before the current conflict. A young Palestinian, born in Gaza, claims that he is being pursued by Hamas and seeks international protection from Greece. The interview with the Asylum Service Officer lasted 170 minutes. It was audio recorded in the presence of an Arab-speaking interpreter. The file, to which iMEdD gained access, reveals lesser-known aspects of the crisis towards which the attention of the international public opinion is currently focused.

The young Palestinian – whose personal information is at iMEdD’s disposal – said that he had a minor son, who had been living with his mother in Gaza. – When was the last time that you contacted your wife? – Before entering the room, when I was downstairs. These were the first words of the minutes that were drafted. Soon after, the interview peaked. – I was imprisoned and tortured by Hamas for the first time in 2014. – Why? – Not because they had anything against us; they simply wanted to fire rockets from our home and I objected to that, and I told them that we have a family and children […] Any rocket launched from the area where the house is located, and the house automatically becomes the target of bombing by Israeli warplanes.  

In the summer of 2014, the year the young Palestinian told the Asylum Service that he was first imprisoned by Hamas fighters, the most deadly conflicts for decades between Israel and Palestine had broken out. Based on UN estimates, 2.300 Palestinians lost their lives and another 17.000 were injured in this crisis that lasted seven weeks.  

The Asylum Service Officer insisted on this specific point in time of the narrative. – Why did they choose your house to fire rockets? – We live in an area with trees around it; it is away from the town and the settlement.  He was considered to be an enemy of the resistance, an agent and a spy, as he said. They would not allow him to get out of his house, threatening to shoot him in the legs if he was seen in the streets. As he said, they got into his house twice and arrested him. – Have they pressed any charges against you? – They said that I was opposing the resistance. 

It was recorded in the minutes that the Palestinian got imprisoned eight or nine times. – We demonstrated against Hamas, he said. – Sometimes against power cuts, high prices, and sometimes against politics and their attitude towards us, the young people and population of Gaza […] 

He also claimed that he was tortured while imprisoned. – They were taking our shoes off and one of them was holding the left leg and another one was holding the right one and they were hitting our feet 50, 80 or even 90 times. After being beaten, they made us jump up and down, so that blood would not be trapped in our feet. Sometimes, they were hanging us from the roof; our hands were tied behind our back and we were suspended by chains attached to our wrists, with our feet barely touching the floor

The interviewer insisted. – Since you were posing such a threat to them, why they were letting you go?, he asked – There were no proceedings against me. They were taking us away, torturing us, beating us and then, they were letting us go. 

At another point, according to the minutes of the interview held at the Asylum Service, the young Palestinian claimed that he was injured after being shot in the leg. – What happened?, the Asylum Service Officer asked. – During the demonstration. We used some dirty words. “resign from Government; leave Gaza” […] They deployed the Hamas forces and started firing on us. – Can you tell me when this demonstration took place? – It was on May 2nd or 3rd 2016

The Palestinian also stated that he crossed Rafah to go to Egypt, where he stayed for approximately nine months, and then he traveled with a medical visa to Turkey, before finally reaching Samos island. The interviewer asked about the time of escape from Gaza. – What made you leave? – The fact that Hamas hunted me. – Did you face any difficulty while leaving Palestine? – I do not understand. – When you left, did you undergo any screening? – No. – Which was the border crossing point? The Rafah border crossing, the land port. – Did they check your passport and your documents there? – Do you mean these documents? – Anything that you were carrying with you. – I only had my passport for them

The interviewer asked again. – I don’t understand. Since you were a wanted person and they knew about you, why they didn’t stop you when you were leaving? – My problems had to do with Qassam, which is the military wing of Hamas […] Besides, this crossing point is far away from the region where I was living.  Of course, they do not make public the names of the persons sought by Hamas, but of those who are wanted by the authorities. – What do you mean by that? – The authorities or the police force are the ones governing the Gaza Strip. For instance, there are employees at the border crossing point carrying out some kind of task and there is also Hamas that is cut off from all of them

It was certified that the man getting exhaustive questions at the Asylum Service’s offices in Samos was born in Gaza Strip at Al Bureij camp. – When did you go to Gaza? – In 1948, we were inside the blue line that was the land of our grandparents, and when the Jews moved to this land, we emigrated to Gaza. And they started calling us refugees. In other words, there are people in the Gaza Strip that resided there all along and there also those who emigrated and moved to Gaza

After a 25-minute break, names of organizations and persons that are heard in war reports over the last few weeks are included in the minutes.  – You told me that the document that you submitted is from Tahrir – Fatah (by mistake, it is stated wrongly as Tahrir – Hamas in the minutes). Were you a member of this group? – I was not a member; I was a supporter. Before 2007, they had control of Gaza, headed by Mahmoud Abbas […] – How is it that a simple supporter was issued the certificate that you furnished? – There were some friends of mine; I asked them for this paper, as they knew that the Hamas movement wanted me and hunted me.  

The interview at the Asylum Services was completed approximately three hours later. – Would it be possible for you to live in any other Palestinian region? the interviewer asked, and the question was answered negatively. – Why? – We, Gaza residents, are not allowed to move to the West Bank. And if I ever go back, I will either live in Gaza or I will be straying for the rest of my life. – What do you mean by “straying”? – I will be hiding from one house to another; I will be living in one place for some time and, soon after, move to another.  

The decision of the Asylum Service was issued a month later, in January 2018. The Service considered that the applicant’s claims had internal and external coherence […]. The presentation of facts was at some points confusing; however the applicant’s narrative evidenced the experiential nature of everything that was described, as noted. 

In the decision file, there is a crosscheck of the names of the areas, towns, and organizations mentioned in the interview. Moreover, the dates of major demonstrations and incidents in Gaza have been checked one by one. References were identical. The Asylum Service, apart from publically available sources (internet, media), also relies on UN references for verifying the accuracy of facts in Gaza, as well as report notes of human rights organizations, Middle East observatories, and foreign embassies’ reports. 

A significant part of this information was obtained from the UN report Gaza – 10 years later (2017). “Israel retains full control of all movement of people and goods to and from Gaza by sea, air and land, with the exception of a 12 km strip of border with Egypt”, notes the report. “Movement restrictions imposed by Israel on the population of Gaza have gradually tightened over the decades in the context of Israel’s unilateral disengagement in 2005, the Hamas takeover in June 2007 as well as continuing Hamas rocket attacks on Israel”.  

The above UN report also notes that the Israeli Government declared Gaza “hostile territory” and ultimately proceeded with blockade by sea, air and land. “Many of these measures are contrary to international law in that they penalize the entire population of Gaza, without regard to individual responsibility and thus amount to collective punishment […]. A further impediment to access and movement has been the military build-up in Gaza by Hamas and other militant groups”, the report continues. 

Further below the report reads: “Following its take-over of Gaza in June 2007, Hamas launched a broad campaign aimed at consolidating power by reforming security apparatuses and neutralizing opponents. Since then, Hamas has committed human rights violations, including restrictions on freedom of expression, association and assembly as well as a campaign of arbitrary arrests, harassment, torture that even lead to death in custody”.  

The rationale of the Asylum Service decision for the young Palestinian is longer than 10.000 words. The Service considered that he meets the conditions for his inclusion under subparagraph b of Article 1D of the 1951 Geneva Convention and therefore, he may ipso facto (automatically) be considered a refugee. The decision of the Asylum Service closes with the cold, bureaucratic words: “For the reasons set forth herein above, we grant him refugee status”. 

iMEdD searched for information on the Palestinian’s whereabouts five years later. People who had been by his side through the Asylum case said that he remained in Greece for some time; however, they cannot say with certainty that he continues to live in the country until today.