Poland’s foreign minister has discussed the situation of Polish citizens stranded in war-torn Gaza with his Israeli counterpart. It is believed that around 30 Poles remain in the territory among an estimated 5,000-6,000 foreign nationals.
Some opposition figures and commentators have criticised the Polish authorities for what they see as insufficient attempts to evacuate the Polish citizens. The foreign ministry says it has been in constant contact with Poles in Gaza, and that an evacuation list was sent to the Israeli authorities a month ago.
Odbyłem rozmowę telefoniczną z izraelskim Ministrem Spraw Zagranicznych @elicoh1 na temat postępu izraelskiej operacji wojskowej w Gazie będącej odpowiedzią na barbarzyński atak terrorystyczny Hamasu.
Omówiliśmy sytuację humanitarną w Strefie Gazy w związku z moim udziałem w…
— Zbigniew Rau (@RauZbigniew) November 7, 2023
As part of an agreement between Hamas, Egypt and Israel, those on the list were to be allowed to leave Gaza via the Rafah crossing with Egypt, the only crossing in Gaza that does not border Israel.
On Saturday, however, Hamas suspended the deal to open after Israel refused to allow injured Palestinians to travel to Egyptian hospitals.
On Sunday, the Polish foreign ministry called ambassadors of the three countries and demanded that the Rafah border crossing be reopened and that evacuations of foreign nationals – particularly of Polish citizens – be allowed without delay.
Deputy FM @paweljablonski_ met with the ambassadors of Egypt, Israel, and Palestine to discuss the resumption of the operation of the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt and the facilitation of the evacuation of 🇵🇱 nationals through it.https://t.co/tTeT7muHmD
— Ministry of Foreign Affairs 🇵🇱 (@PolandMFA) November 6, 2023
The crossing did then reopen on Monday, and at least 500 foreigners have since been evacuated from Gaza, reported Reuters. They include citizens of the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Japan and Jordan, but not Poland, according to news website Onet.
Some of the Polish citizens in Gaza and their families are in the area of some of the heaviest fighting and are having difficulty even getting towards the border with Egypt, reports Onet.
It cited the story of three children aged 13 to 15 with Polish citizenship who are currently in the Jabaliya refugee camp in the north of the Gaza Strip. Their parents arrived in Poland a few days before the war broke out, leaving the children in the care of their grandparents.
Polskie dzieci odcięte na północy Strefy Gazy. „Został im już tylko ryż” https://t.co/Ie6tqFPZfz
— Onet (@onetpl) November 6, 2023
Jabaliya has been the target of particularly heavy Israeli bombing in recent days. The largest of these occurred a few hundred metres from the home of the boys’ family.
“Contact with them is very difficult. They can access the internet once every two days,” Samira, the teenagers’ aunt who lives in Poland, told Onet.
“Everyone is terrified by the explosions. My nephew called his mother and said ‘Either we will starve to death or Israel will kill us,’” she added. “The children are in shock. Day by day they have less and less hope they will get evacuated.”
Two demonstrations – one in support of Israel, the other Palestine – took place in Warsaw.
„We will defeat the Nazis of Hamas just as the world defeated Nazi Germany,” declared Israeli ambassador @YacovLivne in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising monument https://t.co/RVehmNDLNF
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) October 30, 2023
On Tuesday, Poland’s foreign minister, Zbigniew Rau, said that evacuating Polish citizens was one of the topics he had raised in a call with his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen.
“The situation of the civilian population must be of particular concern to democratic governments. Poland and Israel will pursue a path of cooperation on this issue,” said Rau, who thanked Cohen “for his personal commitment to organising assistance for [Polish] citizens”.
However, Krzysztof Śmiszek, an MP from opposition party The Left (Lewica), has urged Poland’s president and prime minister to do more to secure the evacuation of Poles from Gaza.
Dziś wraz z rodzinami polskich obywateli uwięzionych w Strefie Gazy apelujemy do Prezydenta i Premiera o ich pilną ewakuację!
W Strefie bombardowane są też polskie domy, a brak wody, jedzenia i prądu to codzienność naszych rodaków. Każda godzina jest kwestią życia i śmierci! pic.twitter.com/Gy4Pq5eirA
— Krzysztof Śmiszek (@K_Smiszek) November 6, 2023
“The helplessness of Polish diplomacy regarding their evacuation is scandalous,” said Śmiszek last week, adding that information he was receiving from Polish citizens in Gaza suggested that their contact with the Polish embassy in Israel is “not producing satisfactory results”.
Yesterday, speaking alongside family members of some of those still trapped in Gaza, he renewed his call for more urgent action. “Polish homes are being bombed in Gaza, and lack of water, food and electricity is a daily reality for our compatriots. Every hour is a matter of life and death,” he said.
“How is it possible, dear foreign ministry, that since 1 November, citizens of France, England, Germany, the Czech Republic, Australia, the Netherlands, Hungary, Belgium, Austria and…Chad have left Gaza,” but Poles have not, tweeted Rafał Otoka Frąckiewicz, a right-wing commentator.
Jak więc jest możliwe szanowny @MSZ_RP, że od 1 listopada gazę opuścili obywatele Francji, Anglii, Niemiec, Czech, Australii, Holandii, Węgier, Belgi, Austrii i… Czadu? Panie @paweljablonski_ znów pan nie odbiera telefonów z placówek w Izraelu? 🙂 https://t.co/0GG4qzPXdb https://t.co/81xjXvFvyU
— Rafał Otoka Frąckiewicz (@rafalhubert) November 5, 2023
Notes from Poland is run by a small editorial team and published by an independent, non-profit foundation that is funded through donations from our readers. We cannot do what we do without your support.
Main image credit: Catholic Church England and Wales / flickr.com (under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED)
Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.