Under-siege Gazans have relied on secret tunnels for survival, now even that lifeline is drying up

In the past, smuggling goods through the tunnels was the most lucrative business in Gaza. (Reuters)
Updated 09 March 2018
0

Under-siege Gazans have relied on secret tunnels for survival, now even that lifeline is drying up

GAZA CITY: Haitham has spent the past eight years smuggling Marlboro cigarettes from Egypt into Gaza through the elaborate network of underground tunnels that helped keep the Palestinian economy afloat in the face of Israel’s crushing blockade.
When business was at its peak, he employed 25 staff and rarely had time to rest. Now, with his tunnel shut down and the siege tightening its grip, he spends most of his days trying to think of another source of work.
“We collected thousands of dollars in a short period of time,” he told Arab News. “In the past, smuggling goods through the tunnels was the most lucrative business.”
Tales of woe such as Haitham’s can be heard across Gaza, the impoverished coastal strip in which almost 2 million people are crammed into 141 square miles of shanty towns, refugee camps and scrubland. Cut off politically, economically and culturally from their fellow Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, people here say life is harder than it has been for generations. The situation has been deteriorating for more than a decade, and has its roots in both regional and internal politics.
After Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections by a landslide in 2006, the US, EU, Russia and UN all responded with alarm. Under international pressure, the other main Palestinian party, Fatah, refused to join the Islamist movement in a coalition.
Tensions simmered between the two factions, eventually boiling over into a bloody power struggle for control of Gaza in June 2007. After several days of violent clashes in which both sides carried out public executions of rival fighters, Hamas took control of the strip.
Israel responded with an air, sea and land blockade, but smugglers such as Haitham continued to ply their trade through the underground tunnels. Since Abdel Fattah El-Sisi came to power in Egypt in 2013, however, even that economic lifeline has been shut down as Cairo tries to keep Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood apart.
Unemployment levels now hover at around 40 percent and in the past year alone 42,500 Gazans were arrested by Hamas police for unpaid debts. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on food aid, while fuel shortages have left many hospitals unable to power the generators they use for electricity. The UN has warned that Gaza faces “full collapse,” and even the Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, has warned that Gaza’s infrastructure is on the verge of total breakdown.
Khalil Abu Rajab, 70, has spent most of his life working in the clothing trade, a job he inherited from his father. Unable to make ends meet, he is now thinking of closing his business. Sitting on a wooden chair outside his shop as he waved to passers-by, he told Arab News the economic situation was worse than it had ever been.
“I have lived through various periods, from the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip to the period of Palestinian Authority control and the Hamas takeover, but I have not seen a period like this in which I cannot meet my financial obligations,” he said.
At the Al-Shati refugee camp, west of Gaza city, about 80,000 people endure cramped, squalid conditions, with limited access to fresh drinking water and sewage spilling into the streets.
Siham Kahlout lives there with her seven children in a small three-bedroom house. Until 2001 she worked in Israel, but now she relies on aid from the UN and spends most of her time sitting idle outside her home. “We live every day without knowing what will happen tomorrow,” she said.


UN, Palestinians launch humanitarian appeal after funding cuts

Updated 17 December 2018
0

UN, Palestinians launch humanitarian appeal after funding cuts

  • The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan outlined 203 projects to be carried out by 88 different groups
  • The plan prioritized 1.4 million Palestinians most in need of food, health care, shelter, water and sanitation

JERUSALEM: The United Nations and the Palestinian Authority on Monday appealed for $350 million in humanitarian relief for Palestinians next year, saying that they needed more but had to be realistic in the face of “record-low” funding.
The 2019 Humanitarian Response Plan outlined 203 projects to be carried out by 88 different groups, including UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.
The plan prioritized 1.4 million Palestinians most in need of food, health care, shelter, water and sanitation, said Jamie McGoldrick, the UN humanitarian coordinator in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem.
“Humanitarian actors are facing unprecedented challenges, including record-low funding and a rise in attacks to delegitimize humanitarian action,” he said in a joint statement issued on Monday, ahead of the appeal’s launch in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Although “much more assistance is needed,” McGoldrick said, the plan was “reflecting what we can realistically accomplish in this highly constrained context.”
Over the past year, the United States has slashed its funding to the Palestinians, including to the UN agency that provides services to 5 million Palestinian refugees.
The United States promised $365 million to the agency in 2018, but paid only a first instalment of $60 million before announcing in August that it would halt all future donations.
The move was widely seen as a means of pressuring the Palestinian leadership to enter peace negotiations with Israel.
The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — territories that Israel captured and occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.
US-brokered peace talks between the sides collapsed in 2014 and a bid by US President Donald Trump to restart them has so far showed little progress.
Around 77 percent of the funds sought in the 2019 plan would go to Gaza, the appeal organizers said, because the densely populated coastal strip faced a “dire humanitarian situation” after years of an Israeli-led blockade, internal Palestinian political divisions and casualties from demonstrations and recurring hostilities.
“The humanitarian context in the oPt (Occupied Palestinian Territories) is still deteriorating due to the Israeli occupation violations in a time of lack of resources and declining funds because of the politicization of the humanitarian aid,” Palestinian Social Development Minister Ibrahim Al-Shaer said in the statement.