The Palestinian and Turkish ethnic mixture persists over time
Many citizens of the Gaza Strip have recently moved to Turkey in search of job opportunities and better living standards amid deteriorating economic conditions in the besieged enclave.
The facilities offered to obtain a Turkish visa and reside on Turkish territory make Turkey a destination of choice for Gazans.
Thousands of Palestinian families in Gaza are of Turkish origin. Khaled al-Katib, a Palestinian citizen of Turkish origin, told Al-Monitor: “Our family is from the Turkish city of Izmir. My grandfather, who was in the Ottoman army, was sent to Palestine where he settled down and started his own family. Decades later, I traveled to Turkey to examine our family tree. The official papers showed that we were of Turkish origin. I applied for Turkish citizenship, and now I am in the process of obtaining it.
He explained that “holding Turkish citizenship has many advantages such as free education and healthcare and the right to own property. When a resident in Turkey turns 60, whether employed in Turkey or not, he or she will be entitled to a monthly pension – unlike in Gaza – and a Turkish passport.
Al-Monitor spoke with Metin Kaya, a Turkish citizen and Anadolu Agency journalist who has lived in Gaza for almost nine years. He said: “I was born in Istanbul in 1991. I came to Gaza in 2008 when my father worked for the Turkish Humanitarian Aid Foundation (IHH) in Gaza. In 2012, I married a woman from Gaza. I didn’t feel any big differences between Palestinian and Turkish societies and I quickly integrated into Gazan society.
He added: “Although the Gaza Strip has an unstable security situation, unlike Turkey, I like it very much. I was seriously injured in the hand on the first day of the return marches in October 2015 while covering events in the Nahal Oz area, east of Gaza City, while wearing a press jacket .
The history of Palestinian-Turkish relations dates back to the Ottoman Empire which ruled the Arab world, including Palestine, for four centuries, from 1517 until its fall in 1922.
Modern Turkey under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) represents a model of a moderate and modern Islamic regime. It is considered a major Sunni power in the Middle East region, which is why it has become an attractive destination for Palestinians seeking stability in a country with somewhat similar cultural, social and religious values.
In turn, historian Nasser al-Yafawi told Al-Monitor: “There are many Palestinian families of Turkish origin such as al-Gharbawi, Tarzi, Turk, Birkdar, Jukmadar, Radwan, Jasir and al-Jamasi. . . Additionally, surnames ending with the letters “ji” are often of Turkish origin, such as al-Batniji and al-Shorbaji.
He continued: “Turkey left many cultural legacies in Gaza, with more than 1,100 Ottoman words still used in the Palestinian dialect such as ‘Bek’, ‘Pasha’, ‘Effendi’, ‘Saraya’, ‘Maqam’. . and “Akzkhana”. (Turkish for hospital). Also, several Turkish cultural customs have been maintained in Palestine, such as hospitality, the use of blue beads for the evil eye, and the removal of shoes at the door.
Moreover, Turkish archaeological sites in Gaza show the extent of close relations between the Ottoman civilization and the Palestinians, such as the Al-Rifa’yia fountain, the Katib al-Wilaya mosque and the Hamam al-Sammara. In 2015, several Ottoman coins were discovered in the Shujaiya region.
Meanwhile, it is believed that Gaza was home to more than 200 arched alleyways built during Ottoman rule, of which only a few remain today, while 200 old Ottoman-style houses remain intact to this day.
Al-Monitor spoke with Mkhaimer Abu Sada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, about Turkish-Palestinian political relations dating back hundreds of years.
“Since the Ottoman rule, the Turks believe that they are the guardians of Palestine. Today, the AKP, which promotes Islamic values, displays strong support for Hamas in Gaza, whose ideological parent organization is the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abu Sada added: “In Istanbul, there is a street called Gaza Street and a square called Palestine Square. It is the sign of a strong mutual historical heritage and a shared ideology. The Turks feel they have a moral obligation to support Palestine.
Al-Monitor could not independently verify the name of the street and square, but Abu Sada insists he saw the streets while traveling in Turkey.
Regarding Turkish projects supporting Gaza’s economy, Al-Monitor contacted a number of Turkish humanitarian organizations located in the Gaza Strip and Ramallah, including IHH, Palestine-Turkey Friendship Hospital and Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA).
These organizations spoke about the nature of their work and programs, which mainly focus on relief projects rather than development projects. The organizations receive the names of poor families in Palestine from the Ministry of Social Affairs. They provide food aid and other items to the poor and needy, school supplies to orphans and cash to those whose homes were destroyed in the latest Israeli attack on Gaza last year.
TIKA, for its part, offers aid in the fields of education, health and archeology, and carries out infrastructure projects. The association also built the Palestine-Turkey Friendship Hospital in Gaza.
Al-Monitor also contacted the Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Association in Ramallah, which is the only Turkish association to offer development projects in Palestine.
Mohammed Jawhar, chairman of the association’s board of directors, told Al-Monitor: “Our association aims to establish direct relations between Palestinian traders and Turkish traders without the need for an Israeli mediator. This would help ease the tax burden that Palestinian customers have to pay. The association also works to create direct relationships between local organizations and their partners inside Turkey.
He added, “The Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Association regularly organizes technical, cultural and development training sessions for local organizations, including Turkish language courses.”
Samir Abu Mudallahah, an economics professor at Al-Azhar University, told Al-Monitor Turkey’s notable role in the Gaza Strip, especially in terms of supporting institutions and universities. “Turkey has implemented tangible relief projects and infrastructure projects. We hope that future projects will be development projects and not just relief projects whose impact is temporary. Development projects can reduce unemployment and reduce poverty.
He added: “Turkey is a commercial outlet for the Gaza Strip, as it has become one of the favorite destinations for Gazans seeking better living conditions abroad. Many merchants from Gaza work with Turkey, which certainly breaks Israel’s economic hegemony over the enclave.