Arab Interest in Emigration Soars

The percentage of Arabs in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza (Yesha) willing to relocate abroad jumped to 32%, according to a Birzeit University survey last month.

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Gil Zohar, | updated: 16:11

For many years, that figure hovered just below 20 percent, according to an October 24th report by the Christian Science Monitor's Middle East correspondent Joshua Mitnick.

Birzeit University pollster Nader Said, who has monitored emigration attitudes for 12 years, attributed the rise to dissatisfaction over the Hamas-led government. Because of the international aid boycott of the Palestinian Authority, some 165,000 civil servants have not been paid a regular salary since January when Hamas was elected. Those government employees and their families - one-third of the PA's population - have fallen into severe poverty. Compounding that hardship, the society has been disrupted by widespread strikes and armed clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen which threaten to explode into a full-blown civil war.

Even more telling, Said added, is that the percentage surges to 44 percent among Arabs in their 20s and 30s. Among younger men, it surges beyond 50 percent. Said called this the "most shocking result" of the survey.

Among the Arab residents of Yesha, the mere mention of hijra - Arabic for emigration - is enough to stir up painful memories of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that left hundreds of thousands of Arabs stranded outside the newly independent Israeli state.

"Emigration means that you are escaping the occupation and that you don't want to liberate your land. It's a shame on you," says Abdel Nasser Najjar, a columnist for the Arab daily Al Ayyam. "Now it's different. There are many pressures: economic pressure and psychological pressure. Many people are speaking out."

While the interest in emigration is widespread, most Yesha Arabs do not qualify for permission to immigrate to Western countries because of limited professional experience or education.

The majority of Arabs, 62.3%, oppose the idea that Hamas must recognize Israel at this point of time, the poll shows. Yet, 67% support an immediate resumption of negotiations with Israel.

See detailed results of the Birzeit poll.