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Palestinian campaign settles debts of those killed during Great Return March

A Gaza-based charity campaign is helping the families of the Great Return March victims to settle debts with a newly launched campaign.
The sons of a Palestinian, who died of wounds he sustained during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border, mourn during their father's funeral in the central Gaza Strip May 25, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem - RC1886AAD9F0

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Fadi Abu Salah, one of the Palestinians killed during the Great Return March, left his family with a huge debt that they had no means of paying off — until a small group of local activists came to their aid and set up a social initiative.

The initiative is using donations from Muslim families who gave during the holy month of Ramadan to help the families of those killed in the protests along the Israeli-Gaza border between March 30 and May 15.

Abu Salah, whose legs had been amputated following an injury during the 2008 Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, had just finished building a house for his family and had been unable to pay his debts to lending institutions and the construction company. In addition, he owed money to the shopkeepers who had extended his family credit to buy food and basic necessities.

Abu Salah was killed May 14 by an Israeli sniper in the largest protests in Gaza since 2014.

His mother, Entsar Abu Selmi, told Wael Abu Omar, a journalist who interviewed her for the Smart Media network, that the family was unable to settle the debt of $27,000 now that they were left without a breadwinner. She asked him to refer her to any associations that could help the family.

Abu Omar is also a social activist and one of the supervisors of the Palestinian charity campaign “Forgive and You Shall Be Rewarded,” which works with shopkeepers to write off debts or set up payment schedules for Gazans who cannot repay what they owe.

Abu Omar conveyed the story of Abu Salah’s family to members of the campaign, asking whether they could assist the family and others in a similar situation. They decided to start a new campaign to pay off the debts of those who were killed during the Great Return March.

He told Al-Monitor that the first step was to gather information on the amounts owed by those killed in the recent protests. They launched the campaign on Twitter and Facebook May 19, a few days after the start of Ramadan, with the hashtag #ItIsOurDutytoSettleYourDebt, asking individuals and companies to help the poor families settle their debts.

Members of the team involved in setting up the campaign included Bakr Abu Salah, an accountant who gathered information on the debts outstanding with the families, friends and lenders of the deceased; Saeed al-Taweel, a social activist who contacted donors and philanthropists; Khaled al-Hams, who promoted the campaign, its goals and achievements on news websites and social networking platforms; and Abu Omar, who coordinated the small team.

“The team made a chart of all the information gathered and started off by helping the poorest family first — namely Abu Salah's — whose debt amounted to $27,000," Abu Omar noted. "He had built a house for his family before he died and had not paid it off yet. He also owed money to grocers and other tradesmen for the food he bought for his family.”

Abu Selmi told Al-Monitor that her son worked as a computer programmer. He had taken some programming courses, but the family was too poor to afford his university education in this field.

Following Abu Salah's injury in 2008, she had used all the donations her son received to marry him off. “This was the only way to afford a marriage. I wanted him to have children who would support him later in life. We opened a small shop where he worked as a programmer so that he could earn some money,” Abu Selmi said.

“A year before his death, Fadi built a house for his wife, his five children, his unmarried sisters and I. To be able to finish the house — which he built on land he inherited from his grandfather — he had to borrow money from lenders, relatives and friends. He paid his debt to the construction company in installments every two or three months. After he died, I happened to complain to a journalist who was visiting us about the amount of debt that neither his wife nor I could pay off. His wife neither works nor has a degree that would allow her to do so. A couple of days later this journalist contacted us and said that he was about to set up a campaign to pay off the debts of the martyrs and asked for details concerning the debts of my son," she added.

Through individual donations, $6,000 worth of debt was paid off, and several grocers agreed to write off part of Abu Salah's debt.

According to Abu Omar, not a single Palestinian association or faction has contributed so far to paying off these outstanding debts. He said that the donations were mostly small amounts between $30 and $150 from individuals who wanted to donate money during Ramadan.

“We rely on our personal pages on social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to promote the campaign,” Abu Omar said. “The campaign will end once all the debts on the list we made are paid off."

He noted that the debts of those killed during the Great Return March range between $1,500 and $27,000, with the lowest amount belonging to Mohammed Abdel Aal and the highest to Abu Salah. The team has so far been able to pay off 90% of what Abdel Aal owes and a sizeable portion of Abu Salah's debt.

Abu Omar said that many families are still waiting to get assistance.

Abu Omar noted that the financial assistance does not extend to all those killed, but only some 100 families who need the money. “Some victims came from well-off families who could afford to pay their children's debts themselves. Others were children, who had no debts,” he concluded.

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