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Palestinians in Gaza struggle this Ramadan

Grappling with unpaid wages and a struggling economy, Palestinian families have little to celebrate during holy month.

Last updated: 06 Jul 2014 07:55
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Gaza City - On top of the Abu Amin Abu Shawish family’s Ramadan breakfast table sat only four bowls of maloukhieh soup, two dishes of white rice, and some lemons and green peppers.

"The meat was eaten yesterday. This is the leftover from the day before," said Abu Amin, 50, who provides for an extended family of 14 people, all living in a makeshift home in southeast Gaza City. The family’s economic situation during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan "is very bad" compared to previous years, Abu Amin said.

In the past, he distributed cement to several construction sites and projects in the Gaza Strip every day. The cement, like most other construction materials, was being smuggled into the Palestinian territory from Egypt. Last summer, the Egyptian army shut down most of the smuggling tunnels, cutting off the lifeline that had prevented Gaza's economy from near-total collapse.

More than 50,000 people who worked in industries related to the tunnels, and more than 150,000 professionals and artisans whose jobs relied on construction materials, have now joined the ranks of Gaza's jobless. In the first quarter of 2014, approximately 180,000 Palestinians in Gaza were unemployed, up from about 160,000 unemployed in the last quarter of 2013.

"In the past, I used to make from 100-150 shekels [$29-44] distributing cement a day, and my son worked on a [horse-drawn] cart also in distributing, making another 50 shekels [$15]," said Abu Amin, whose house is made of salvaged concrete bricks and rusted, corrugated aluminium. "We had a new meal every day."

"Now, we can't find 15 shekels [$4] to feed the horse," he continued.


RELATED: Gaza - Life under siege


While mosques are full for most of the day, at night people in Gaza are preoccupied by Israeli air strikes on the besieged Palestinian territory. Israel says the attacks are a response to rockets fired from Gaza; they have also come after Israel accused Hamas of orchestrating the kidnapping and killing of three Israeli settler teenagers near the West Bank city of Hebron last month. On Saturday, Israel launched 10 separate strikes on Gaza.

Meanwhile, Abu Amin's family only received one parcel of food from a charity operating in Gaza - beans, cooking oil, rice, sugar, and other basic staples - for Ramadan, compared to four parcels at the same time last year.

Charities in Gaza are struggling with increased demand for help, said Ahmed al-Kurd, the coordinator of humanitarian aid for several local organisations in Gaza. Last year, the organisations were able to support 60,000 families. This year, the number of families who applied for food assistance increased dramatically to 100,000, while the charities have enough money to provide for 30,000 families, al-Kurd said.

I came here to buy Ramadan goods for my family and my [married] daughter, but I don’t think I will be able to buy all the things I wanted.

- Mohammed Qanita, 44, electrician

Due to international political pressure, "hundreds of financial transfers [from Muslim and Arab donors] did not arrive," he told Al Jazeera. "We can't carry out our work as needed."

High prices and a lack of purchasing power also mean that many people wander through Gaza’s markets, but few actually buy.

"Prices are high this year," said electrician Mohammed Qanita, 44. "I came here to buy Ramadan goods for my family and my [married] daughter, but I don’t think I will be able to buy all the things I wanted."

At al-Zawya market in the old quarter of Gaza City, fewer Ramadan ornaments were visible than in previous years, and though the market was busy, the majority were not buying.

Alaa Masoud, who was selling cheese, jam, tahini halva, and other Ramadan staples, said that with the closure of the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt, much of the goods must be imported through Erez, an Israeli-controlled commercial crossing point.

"This has risen from 18 to 23 shekels [$5-7]," he said, pointing to a yellow Gouda cheese. An Egyptian-made feta cheese saw a six-shekel [$1.75] increase. "People have no money; workers are laid off, crossings are closed, no salaries," Masoud said. "At this time last year, I was selling 100,000 shekels [$29,250] a day. Now, I only sold for 60,000 [shekels, about $17,500]."


RELATED: Salary crisis imperils Palestinian unity


The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority has not yet paid the salaries of its 70,000 employees in the Gaza Strip. PA employees are usually paid the first week of every month, however the PA said the salaries will be late because Israel has not yet transferred Palestine's tax revenues.

Over the past eight months, the Hamas government, which was dissolved in June with the formation of a Palestinian national consensus government, has provided its employees with only small portions of their basic salaries. Employees of the former Hamas government, estimated at about 42,000 workers, still have not collected paychecks for April and May.

Read more of our coverage on Palestine

"We are looking for every way at least to provide them with a minimum income. There are attempts to provide employees with smaller payments from charities and benefactors. This is what we can do for them in Ramadan," Salah al-Bardaweel, a senior Hamas official in Gaza, told Al Jazeera.

While Abu Salem, a 35-year-old traffic cop, has not been paid for more than 50 days, he was still working under the hot sun.

"I have four children and it's their right to enjoy [themselves] like children of other families," he said, without giving Al Jazeera his full name. Abu Salem added that he wouldn’t be able to buy "fresh meat, chicken, qatayef, candies and sweets for Ramadan".

Maher al-Tabba, an economist based in Gaza, said that both sets of Palestinian public servants - in the West Bank and Gaza Strip - hold most of the purchasing power. "Markets often rely on the salaries of [Palestinian Authority] and Gaza employees."

He told Al Jazeera that the delay in paying the employees caused a sharp decrease in sales. "We are talking about 180,000 to 200,000 jobless people… This is a disastrous situation," he said.

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Al Jazeera
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