Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 15 November 2019

Death of Palestinian pharmacist who fled Hamas highlights Gaza’s desperation

Tamer Sultan, called a 'martyr of emigration,' died of leukemia after leaving the enclave for Bosnia and Herzegovina

Thousands turned out for the funeral of Tamer Sultan, a 38-year old activist and father for two who fled the Gaza strip to escape Hamas repression and in search of a future but died of cancer in Bosnia. Majd Mahmoud for The National
Thousands turned out for the funeral of Tamer Sultan, a 38-year old activist and father for two who fled the Gaza strip to escape Hamas repression and in search of a future but died of cancer in Bosnia. Majd Mahmoud for The National

As conditions continue to worsen in the Gaza Strip under Hamas rule and a crippling Israeli blockade, residents are increasingly trying to flee the enclave, sometimes with tragic consequences.

But one case in particular has shone a light on the desperation suffered by those remaining in the coastal territory.

Tamer Sultan, a 38-year-old father of three, left Gaza in May to seek dignity and a free life. But three months later, his lifeless body was being returned home.

Thousands of Gazans gathered in front of his home in the north of the Gaza Strip on Sunday, waiting for his body to arrive from Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he had moved. His corpse had been transferred to Turkey, then to Cairo and after that to the enclave.

He died of leukemia on August 17 after what the Palestinian Authority’s Interior Ministry said an autopsy showed to be leukaemia.

Those who came to bid the father farewell called him “the martyr of emigration”. The circumstances around his death remain unclear as his family say he was healthy when he left Gaza.

In a room full of women at the family home, his pregnant wife, 31-year-old Marwa, says she is waiting to see him again so she can say goodbye.

“I hope my children will not experience the life that their father lived,” she said. “I hope they can have a better life. Tamer was hoping to live in freedom and dignity.”

Tamer, a bright young man who plied his trade as a pharmacist, was not content with keeping his views to himself. Allied with the Fatah party, the faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas currently at odds with Hamas, he was outspoken on social media and paid for it at the hands of Gaza’s rulers.

He decried Hamas nepotism and the conditions fuelling the flight of Gaza’s educated, both the leadership of the enclave and Israel's land, air and sea blockade. Hamas security forces arrested him on several occasions because of his Facebook posts and he suffered physical abuse at their hands, according to his family.

"He was arrested by Hamas security many times. He told me about the violations and torture he experienced inside Hamas cells,” Najla Sultan, Tamer's 37-year-old sister, told The National.

“They locked him up inside a small room and forced him to stand for a long time. He told me that he was hearing the sounds of torturing for other prisoners,” she continued. “The last arrest for him lasted for two months and, after they released him, within one month he left Gaza".

Tamer would sell his wife’s gold to collect the funds needed for him to leave Gaza, paying around $1,500 to get out. After leaving Gaza, he travelled to Turkey before heading to Greece and on to Bosnia and Herzegovina. His final intended destination was Norway. He had hoped to bring his wife and three children out of Gaza once he was settled in a new country.

"He told us since he reach Bosnia and Herzegovina everything will be okay, because if the security arrests him they will not force him to go back to Greece" Horia Sultan, Tamer's 30-year-old sister told The National.

His subsequent death prompted condemnation on Palestinian social media and from the Palestinian faction that he supported.

Fatah said in a statement that he had fled “to the unknown” to escape the “dark forces of Hamas”.

“Tamer is the case of the siege,” said Marwa. "He didn't want his children to be numbers as he was, Tamer told me they used to call him inside the cell with his number not his name. He wanted freedom and dignity for his children and, because of that, he left Gaza.”

Tamer ultimately dreamed of returning home one day and living a better life with his family, his wife recalls him saying. “He planted a grape tree in our new home and he told me that when he comes back to Gaza after the siege and the political division, we all will eat from it”.

Updated: August 25, 2019 07:46 PM

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