Surging poverty in Gaza Strip as residents decry Israeli siege

Special A girl wearing a protective N95 mask sweeps outside her home in Gaza City. (AFP file photo)
A girl wearing a protective N95 mask sweeps outside her home in Gaza City. (AFP file photo)
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Updated 16 August 2021

Surging poverty in Gaza Strip as residents decry Israeli siege

A girl wearing a protective N95 mask sweeps outside her home in Gaza City. (AFP file photo)
  • Industry, rebuilding work ‘paralyzed’ in occupied enclave, official tells Arab News

GAZA CITY: More than two months after a fierce 11-day war between Palestinian factions and Israel, 2 million Palestinians in the small coastal Gaza Strip are still suffering from the repercussions of the violence.

Severe restrictions imposed by Israel since then — deepening the siege imposed in Gaza since mid-2007 — have caused hardship for residents in the occupied territory, despite the end of violent clashes in May.

Egypt, which has acted as a mediator in the conflict, succeeded in putting an end to the killings and destruction by reaching a cease-fire agreement.

However, Cairo’s efforts have not yet been successful in restoring the situation in Gaza to what it was before the outbreak of the war.

Israel has attributed its continued siege and ban on reconstruction in Gaza to Hamas’ detainment of Israeli prisoners.

Through these restrictions, Israel is pressuring Hamas — which has ruled Gaza since its seizure by armed force in 2007 — to release four Israelis, including two who entered Gaza under unknown circumstances, and two soldiers who were captured during the 2014 war and whose fates are unknown.

Hamas insists on releasing them within the framework of a prisoner exchange agreement similar to the 2011 Shalit deal, through which hundreds of Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli prisons.

Officials in Gaza said that the strict Israeli restrictions are resulting in “negative effects on all aspects of life,” and have led to an “unprecedented rise in poverty and unemployment rates.”

During the past few weeks, Israel gradually allowed an increase in imported items to the Gaza Strip, but the most important materials still forbidden are construction supplies.

This prevents the start of a reconstruction process and the resumption of infrastructure projects funded by international groups.

Rami Abu Al-Rish, an official for the Palestinian Ministry of Economy, said that the industrial, commercial and agricultural sectors in Gaza are “paralyzed.”

This is reflected in the lives of Gazans, with the unemployment rate rising to 75 percent amid surging poverty, said Abu Al-Rish.

“Thousands of workers in various sectors lost their livelihoods, whether due to the destruction of commercial and industrial facilities, or the suspension of production due to the blockade and restrictions,” he told Arab News

Abu Al-Rish said that “the horizon is blocked” and the situation in Gaza was “getting worse day by day.”

There is “no indication of a breakthrough soon,” especially for reconstruction and repair, he added.

Israel is also preventing funds from a $30 million Qatari grant from entering the territory.

The monthly fund is intended for poor families and temporary employment, and normally arrived in Gaza accompanied by Qatari Ambassador Mohammed Al-Emadi of the Qatari Reconstruction Committee.

The Gaza Municipality — the largest in the Gaza Strip — has complained about the continued suspension of work on infrastructure projects.

A member of the Municipal Council, Hishem Skaik, said that 13 infrastructure projects were halted after the outbreak of the war, as Israel prevented the entry of building materials and materials for completing infrastructure projects.

The tightening of restrictions at the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing in Gaza has also caused delays for about 16 other infrastructure projects.

The projects were fully funded about two years ago, and all the relevant contracts have been signed, Skaik said, but work cannot begin.

He added that the municipality did not receive funding to repair the recent damage to infrastructure as a result of the war, which has been estimated at $20 million.

The war on the Gaza Strip lasted for 11 days, leaving 243 Palestinians dead, thousands of housing units destroyed and infrastructure in rubble, with total losses of $479 million in damage.

Samir Al-Attar, a clothing merchant in Gaza, said that summer holidays and weddings are the “most prominent times in our trade,” but that this year “was the worst, as a result of the war and the continued closure of the Kerem Shalom crossing.”

He told Arab News: “The economic reality in general in the Gaza Strip has been suffering for years, and many sectors have been hurt during the recent period as a result of the tightening in the entry of goods, which has been reflected in other sectors to which goods are allowed to enter as well, as a result of weak purchasing power.”

There are daily reports that Palestinian factions led by Hamas intend to ramp up activity along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel with marches and night activities, as a means of putting pressure on Israel to ease the siege and allow the entry of the Qatari funding.

Hamas warned through its spokesman Abdel-Latif Al-Qanou that “more restrictions and tightening on Gaza will only generate an explosion in the face of the occupation.”