This picture taken on 9 November, 2023 from a position along the border with the Gaza Strip in southern Israel, shows smoke billowing from Gaza amid ongoing battles between Israeli forces and the Palestinian Hamas movementAFP

It seems an incongruous question in the middle of Israel's war with Hamas, but asked who wanted to return home, these Gazans stuck in the occupied West Bank responded as one: "Me, to be with my family."

"My wife is alone in Gaza City, under the bombs, with our four children. They are scared. They have nothing, no water, no food. I must go back to try to help them," said a desperate Abdelazim al-Arifi, whose children are aged between seven months and nine years old.

Arifi, 29, had been working at a factory in the north of Israel for nine months when Hamas launched its surprise attack on October 7.

Not long after, Israel annulled the 18,500 work permits given to Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, where unemployment sits at 50 per cent.

Arifi, suddenly in Israel illegally, went to the West Bank, occupied Palestinian territory.

Around 1,500 Gazan workers have found themselves stranded in Jericho, in the south of the West Bank, according to the city's deputy governor Yusra al-Sweity.

The majority want to return to Gaza, she said.

That's despite Israel, which has pledged to destroy Hamas, continuing to bomb the coastal territory and sending in ground forces to fight the Islamist militants.

Israel has also cut off water, electricity and food, with only a trickle of aid trucks entering each day.

More than 10,800 people have been killed in Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry says, mostly civilians and including more than 4,400 children.

The war was launched in retaliation for Hamas's attack, which Israeli officials say killed 1,400 people, also mostly civilians.

Fear of bad news

"I don't know when they are going to leave," said Sweity.

"If they go to the checkpoint (to exit Jericho), the Israelis will arrest them. So a transfer has to be co-ordinated with Israel," she added.

The Israeli military administration in charge of the Palestinian territories did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gaza and the West Bank are separated from each other by Israeli territory and sealed off by the Israeli army.

In Jericho, around 350 workers have been housed at Al-Istiqlal university.

During the day, they wander around aimlessly, smoke, sleep and follow the bombings on their phones.

"Every time the phone rings, we are afraid of bad news," said one.

Asked if it wasn't better to be in the West Bank than under the bombs, there was a sudden wave of answers.

"We don't care if we die there. We want to be with our kids. So if something happens, we'll be together," said one.

"We don't sleep. All we do is think about our families," added another.

With photos to prove it, some of the workers said their families had already been killed by the bombardment.

A dangerous route

Wissam Mqout, 36, is in Jericho with his father Ismail, 55. The pair worked in construction in Israel before the war.

"We managed to get a permit (to leave Gaza), after an investigation by the Israeli authorities. This shows that we have nothing to do with Hamas," said Wissam.

When he managed to speak to his wife on the phone, he could hear bombing.

"I'm expecting to die every minute," she told him recently.

His 12-year-old son asked them if they thought they would ever see each other again.

His mother, wife and their six children have stayed in the north, despite Israel's warnings for civilians to head southwards.

"It's too dangerous to go to the south. There are no men with them," said Wissam.

Some workers have already been returned to the Gaza Strip. In early November, Israel sent thousands of Palestinian workers back to the territory, several of whom told AFP they had been imprisoned after their work permits were cancelled.

The deputy governor of Jericho said the men in his city "can stay if they want, nobody will force them to leave."

Mohamed Rifi, 32, was one of those staying put.

"I no longer have a home in Gaza. My family has evacuated to the south where they are staying in a school... I won't leave until there's a ceasefire," he said.