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Qatar's charity funding in Gaza dries up as Gulf crisis continues

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip worry about how the Gulf decision to cut ties with Qatar will affect the critical Qatar-funded relief and development projects in Gaza.
Palestinian workers work on a Qatari-funded construction project in the southern Gaza Strip June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa - RTX39GD0

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Mohammad Tuman sat by the door of his unfinished house in Gaza's Khan Yunis camp contemplating when the second phase of his home's restoration will be completed. The reconstruction is part of a Qatari project called Maskan Kareem (A Decent House) that restores old houses located in densely populated camps. Several other families are similarly waiting for their house restoration work to be completed.

As Tuman tore some old cement bags, he told Al-Monitor, “After the June 5 Gulf decision to cut relations with Qatar, I am afraid that my house might never be fully reconstructed. It still needs windows and electrical and water repairs. The floors are sandy, and I'm afraid I might be forced to rent a house again. I cannot afford that now.”

Four associations and charities in Gaza operate under Qatari supervision. The Qatar Charity specializes in social development and economic projects, the Qatar Red Crescent offers medical aid, Al-Fakhoora Dynamics Futures Programme provides educational empowerment and scholarships, and the Qatari Gaza Reconstruction Committee focuses on repairing what Israel has destroyed in Gaza.

The Qatari Gaza Reconstruction Committee, which began its work in October 2012, is one of the largest donor associations in the Gaza Strip. The Qatari grant provided for the funding of several projects in Gaza amounting to $407 million. The committee has carried out major projects in the Gaza Strip, including $160 million worth of reconstruction and housing projects, namely the Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani residential city, which includes more than 3,000 residential units and is located in Khan Yunis, and the Salahuddin main street rehabilitation project worth $155 million.

Al-Monitor tried to contact Youssef Ghreiz, the adviser to the head of the Qatari Gaza Reconstruction Committee, and Mohammad Haloub, the director of the Qatar Charity, to ask them about the impact of the boycott decision on the Qatari projects in Gaza. They both said they were prohibited from making any statements to any media outlet.

However, an official source in one of these institutions told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity that the financial support provided to the Qatari institutions in Gaza was suspended 10 months ago and that these institutions have a zero balance in the Bank of Palestine. Meanwhile, the source added, the companies in charge of the construction and reconstruction projects are waiting for the necessary funding.

Asked why the financial support has been suspended, the source said, “The Qatari government established the Qatar Development Fund as a means to manage the Qatari associations and charities around the world, and it stopped funding its development and relief projects in Gaza to confine its financial support under this fund alone. There are financial donations for orphans and poor people that have not made their way to Gaza yet. We are afraid that this suspension might continue in light of the decision to cut ties with Qatar, especially considering that only a few small seasonal Ramadan projects have been carried out in Gaza.”

Maher Tabbaa, the director of public relations and media at the Gaza Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told Al-Monitor, “The Qatari projects implemented in Gaza over the past five years are strategic projects that have positively affected the Gaza Strip citizens. For example, the Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa city project and the Hamad Hospital for Rehabilitation and Prosthetic Limbs in Gaza have created thousands of job opportunities in Gaza.”

Tabbaa added that Qatar also invested in large projects in the West Bank, thus creating thousands of job opportunities. For instance, there is the $1 billion Rawabi residential city and the Palestinian national telecommunications company (Wataniya) established in partnership with the Qatari Qtel telecommunications service provider in 2006, whose name became Ooredoo in 2013.

Asked how the Qatari funds would previously enter Gaza, Tabbaa said, “All the funds provided to the previous projects were publicly transferred in coordination with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel. The Qatari funds are transferred through the Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah as part of the Gulf Cooperation Council [GCC] program and are subsequently transferred to the Palestinian Monetary Authority, which, in turn, channels the funds to the Bank of Palestine.”

The GCC established the Gaza Reconstruction Program in 2009, and it was open to all Arab countries. The program is managed by a coordinating committee from the GCC states and the Arab contributing countries, in coordination with the Islamic Development Bank and the legal institutions and with help from the relevant financial institutions. The GCC has allocated $1.646 billion for the reconstruction of Gaza after the Israeli war in 2008-09.

As for the implications of the boycott decision on the Qatari projects and the economic and social conditions in Gaza, Tabbaa said, “I expect a major delay and disruption in the completion of the unfinished development projects in Gaza as well as a halt to relief projects in the coming stage, which will worsen the situation in Gaza, but the [projects] will return because Israel won’t allow the situation to explode.”

Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani, Qatar's ambassador to Washington, said in an interview June 6 with the Daily Beast, “We are not financing Hamas. We are working in Gaza on reconstruction efforts, building houses and hospitals in coordination with the Palestinians and Israel.”

The material needed to implement the Qatari projects would usually make it to Gaza either through the Rafah crossing, in coordination with the Egyptian side, or through the Israeli side, within a joint committee that included Israel, the PA and Robert Serry, the UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

It is noteworthy that dozens of Palestinians who benefit from the Qatari projects took part in a solidarity rally held outside the headquarters of the Qatari Gaza Reconstruction Committee in the west of Gaza City June 13 along with Qatari charities operating in the Gaza Strip. They were protesting the list issued by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE and Egypt on June 8 that designated Qatari charities, such as the Qatar Charity, as terrorist organizations.

Zuhair al-Daour, the representative of the participants in the solidarity rally, told Al-Monitor, “The relief and development projects provided by charities operating in the Gaza Strip played a major role in stopping the increasing rates of unemployment and poverty, and I am afraid that Qatar might yield to the pressure it is contending with because that would lead to an imminent explosion in Gaza.”

Naji Sarhan, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Works in the Gaza Strip, told Al-Monitor, “Reconstruction projects have been stalled due to the suspension of Qatari support 10 months ago, and the existing budgets are not enough to complete such projects.”

Not only has this ambiguous funding suspension worried Palestinian citizens, but it also worries the Palestinian decision-makers in Gaza, who fear that these projects might suddenly stop as a result of the pressures placed on Qatar.

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