A resident of Gaza and father of five visited the local social services office on Monday, asking whether he would get his $100 grant from Qatar that day, or perhaps during the Eid al-Ahda festival starting that evening. The answer was negative. The man turned to leave with tears in his eyes.
The official was not unmoved. “What would you do with the $100?” he asked. “For me, 50 shekels ($15) would suffice for food for a few days,” the man answered. “So, $100 is a lot of money for me. Maybe you get a salary, but I need this money to buy frozen meat and vegetables. If I were lucky, I could buy ice cream or sweets for the holiday with the remainder.”
The official, identified with Hamas, told Haaretz he has heard many similar stories in recent days. More than 100,000 families in Gaza await aid from Qatar, but it’s been suspended due to arguments over how the money is transferred to Gaza. A political source in Hamas said Israel is trying to justify freezing the funds as a way to stop money from seeping to Hamas, which he called a “foolish decision.”
“This aid is earmarked for needy families,” he said. “It’s a shame that [Israeli Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett is trying to flex his muscles precisely on this issue,” he added. “The question is the degree to which Israel will allow Gaza to resume recovery. If it doesn't, then it is only a matter of time before the next confrontation.”
But even if Hamas is trying to exploit the distress for its own purposes, anyone who sees the streets of Gaza cannot ignore the dire situation. Under normal conditions, the holiday spirit can be felt even in the poorest, most crowded areas, but this year, the situation is much worse.
On top of the coronavirus pandemic and its persisting results, now Gazans have to deal with the widespread destruction caused by “Operation Guardian of the Walls.” Bulldozers work around the clock to clear the rubble of destroyed buildings, but there is little sign of repair, or renewed construction. Many buildings suffered damage to their infrastructure and have become too hazardous to live in, leaving thousands of families homeless.
Making matters even worse, says Samir Zakut of the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, “Thousands of people who worked in factories or commercial and industrial centers were left without an income after they were attacked.” The failure of Qatari aid to arrive also hits the markets, creating shortages of staple products.
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“There are hardly even any mattresses, after the mattress factory, which was attacked during the war, dramatically reduced the supply. It is rare today to find a mattress in Gaza, and the ones to be found cost a lot of money,” he adds.
Many merchants in the Khan Younis market are disappointed after expecting that shopping would pick up with the arrival of the Qatari aid, even if just for a few days. “It’s true that $100 for a family looks like very little money,” said one merchant, Ahmed. “However, $100 for 100,000 families adds up to $10 million. Such an amount flows into stores, markets and restaurants for a few days, and it’s a lot of money for the merchants. But this didn’t happen, and so there is great anger and frustration.”
He adds that Israel throwing up obstacles to the aid will only further destabilize the already fragile region.