GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The $150 million that the Qatar Development Fund pledged last month in aid for Gaza has begun to provide some relief to Gazans and their faltering economy.
At a Nov. 6 press conference in Gaza City, representatives from the Ministries of Finance, Social Development and Labor in Gaza announced that the Qatari assistance will go toward cash handouts, temporary employment projects and paying a portion of government employees' salaries.
Youssef Ibrahim, undersecretary of the Ministry of Social Development, told Al-Monitor, “Financial aid worth 700 shekels ($200) was disbursed Nov. 7 from the Qatari grant to 5,000 individuals. These include families of martyrs who fell in the Great Return March protests, people who were seriously wounded and others who underwent amputations during the same protests.” On Nov. 10, the Ministry of Social Development provided 50,000 poor families with a $100 in assistance.
Moussa al-Sammak, undersecretary at the Ministry of Labor, had informed Al-Monitor, “Ten thousand individuals will be selected for a temporary two-phase employment program. The first phase began Nov. 18, with the announcement of the names of 5,000 graduates and workers who will be offered six-month jobs. The other 5,000 will be announced during the second phase.” Sammak did not specify when the second phase will start.
Eight years after graduating from Al-Azhar University with a diploma in nursing, Ibrahim Saada was finally offered a job, thanks to Tomouh 2, the temporary program aimed at employing 2,500 graduates and 2,500 workers in its first phase.
“I am happy, but my happiness remains incomplete as this is only a six-month job that I got thanks to the Qatari grant,” Saada told Al-Monitor. “I wish I could land a permanent job to be able to guarantee my family a decent future.”
Also as part of the grant, Hamas-appointed government employees began receiving their salaries from July on Nov. 7. These employees have continued to perform their jobs although for years they have only been receiving partial compensation due to the government’s inability to fully cover their salaries amid the political and economic siege imposed against Hamas and Gaza since 2007.
A Nov. 9 statement issued by the Ministry of Finance in Gaza said that employees who received a full salary for July will get 50% of their August, September, October and November salaries over the next five months.
Ibrahim Mahfouz, owner of Supermarket Ibrahim on the main street of Omar al-Mukhtar, in Gaza City, told Al-Monitor that people have had very low purchasing power in the past few months. Now that government employees have received portions of their salaries, and poor families have received financial handouts, sales have slightly improved, he said.
“As soon as the employees received their salaries, they settled some of the debt they owed me,” Mahfouz remarked. “This, in turn, helped me pay off the debt I owed to traders.”
According to the Qatar News Agency, 27,000 employees will benefit from the grant. “The rest will have 60% of their salaries paid from local revenues over the coming six months,” the agency added.
A government official informed Al-Monitor, “The employees who did not benefit from the grant are mostly military employees whose inclusion in the grant faced Israeli rejection. Their salaries will be covered by the local revenues of the Gaza government.” Members of the police were also denied assistance. This prohibition applied to 23,000 people.
Mahmoud Mustafa, a military officer with the Ministry of Interior and National Security in Gaza, is responsible for the welfare of three people. “It has been four years since I last received a full salary, and I did not benefit from the Qatari grant because Israel refused to allow our salaries to be included,” Mustafa said. “The economic situation in Gaza is very difficult, and we have only been receiving 40% of our salaries for four years now. There are a lot of things and luxuries I can no longer afford, and I am heavily indebted.”
Meanwhile, Abdul Wahab Bayan, a civil servant who provides for four people, has benefited from the grant. “I received a full salary, a first since August 2016, as I have only been receiving 40% of my salary since then,” he told Al-Monitor.
Hamas spokesman Abdellatif al-Kanoua said in a statement to Al-Monitor, “The Qatari grant that led to the creation of several employment projects was the fruit of the sacrifices made by the people in the peaceful Great Return March.”
He further stated, “There has been progress in the consultations and understandings reached with several parties in order to break the Gaza siege and establish calm without paying any political price.” According to Ministry of Health statistics, 225 people have been killed since the beginning of the Great Return March protests in March, and more than 21,000 have been wounded. Sixty-six people have had amputations.
Mustafa al-Sawaf, a political analyst and former editor-in-chief of Felesteen newspaper, views the situation similarly to Kanoua. “The group of projects that have been established and the support that Gaza has benefited from resulted from the Great Return March protests,” he said. “These placed enormous pressure on the occupation [Israel] and forced [it] to think about relieving the burden weighing on the shoulders of the Palestinians. Also, the UN is afraid of a big explosion in the event of an ongoing siege. Such an explosion would affect the entire region, and everyone would have to bear the consequences.”
Sawaf concluded, “The Egyptian, Qatari and international efforts offer a glimmer of hope.”
Maher Tabbaa, an economic analyst, has a slightly different take on the situation. “The Qatari grant has managed to grease Gaza’s economic wheels, but not to a sufficient level,” he told Al-Monitor. “The grant’s effect will only last for six months, which is not enough time to revive Gaza’s economy. In other words, Palestinian reconciliation remains a must to resolve the humanitarian crisis plaguing Gaza.”
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