GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — On Dec. 17, media sites circulated a leaked document from Hamas’ Popular Action Department detailing the movements’ expenses for the celebrations of its 31st anniversary in mid-December in Gaza City.
The expenditures included travel and accommodation costs to bring Al-Waad band from Beirut to Gaza to participate in the festivities, buses to transport citizens to the event location, monitors at the festival site, Hamas flags and banners, promotion on social media and personal visits by Hamas members to Gaza.
The movement also paid to install a stage in Katiba Square, west of Gaza City, and rented seating and generators. The leaked document said total expenditures up to Dec. 13 were some $534,350 — a bill that has angered many Hamas government employees in Gaza who have not been paid their full salary since 2013.
Amal Habib, a journalist for Al-Resalah newspaper affiliated with the Hamas government in Gaza, wrote Dec. 13 on her Facebook page, “I know people are able to install a celebration stage and erect columns, but a month ago they were not able to give one woman part of her salary to pay for a passport and visa so she could travel to see her father before he dies!” This was a reference to herself.
Amal had been attempting to recover a portion of her government salary in order to renew her passport and pay for airline tickets to the United Arab Emirates, where her family and father — who is suffering from cancer — lives.
The Hamas government has been paying half the salaries of government employees in Gaza for the past five years. It keeps the deducted sum in banks, and provides the employees with government services instead, according to Bayan Bakr, a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance in Gaza.
Bakr told Al-Monitor the government in Gaza has gradually trimmed the salaries of its staff since 2013. Hamas has been suffering a financial crisis since the fall of the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s regime, when the new Egyptian government launched a campaign against the Hamas tunnels. The movement had benefited from taxes imposed on products that entered Gaza through the tunnels.
Bakr added that the salary cuts are also due to a drop in the Gaza government’s revenues from imports as a result of the ongoing Israeli siege and seizure of numerous goods at crossings, not to mention the decline in local fees imposed on some services (including property licenses, education and health) stemming from poor economic conditions.
He said employee salaries initially shrank by 40% and then 50%. In 2018, deductions rose to 60% of workers' monthly wages. “Employees' entitlements — that is, the unpaid part of their salaries — are provided to them in the form of other services, such as treatment for serious illnesses for them and their immediate families, as well as vehicle license fees and 60% subsidies on electricity bills and university fees for employees' children,” Bakr said.
Hamas, meanwhile, told Al-Monitor that the information published on social media in relation to the festival costs was not accurate.
A member of Hamas’ finance division who preferred not to be named told Al-Monitor, “Everything published on social media about the festival budget reaching more than $550,000 is incorrect. Could it possibly be reasonable that the cost of installing a stage would be $75,000? The amounts are exaggerated.”
He added, “Whatever the amount spent on the celebrations, it is the expense of Hamas and has nothing to do with the government in Gaza. The government of national reconciliation, headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, is responsible for the salaries of employees. Staff should not be upset over the expenses of Hamas, which handed over the government in Gaza to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamdallah’s government in December 2017.”
But no matter whose responsibility it is, Gazans are suffering. Riad (a pseudonym), who has worked as a traffic policeman since 2009, told Al-Monitor that his manager in the traffic unit affiliated with the Gaza government has forced him to continue his work even if he cannot afford transportation from and to his workplace.
With a current monthly salary of only 900 shekels (about $239), Riad is barely able to cover the costs of food for his family. “The head of our department is always threatening me and my colleagues with a cut to our salaries if we fail to show up in the public squares and streets at the outset of our working day, knowing that we have not received our full salaries for almost five years under the excuse that the government in Gaza is unable to pay them,” he said.
Riad said he is forced to borrow money from relatives and friends each month to provide for his family of seven, as well as his elderly mother who lives with them. All that remains of his salary after fee deductions from his income by the National Islamic Bank is 900 shekels. He also was forced to borrow again to pay for surgery for his sick mother a year ago.
“I receive half of my salary from the Hamas government, amounting to 1,100 shekels ($292) per month, under the excuse that the government cannot pay full salaries. And the bank deducts 200 shekels ($53) in fees imposed on loans I took out from the bank. With the remainder, I can just pay for my electricity and water bills, buy food for my family and medicine for my mother,” he said.
Expressing resentment at the amount spent by Hamas on its anniversary celebrations, he said, “If Hamas paid this money to its government employees in Gaza, it would be better than bringing a singing band to celebrate their anniversary, as we as employees in its government can barely find food for our children.”
Bakr said Hamas government employees recently received 60% of their salaries after a Qatari payout.
“Employees of the government in Gaza received 60% of their salaries in two payments, with six payments still to arrive. This has improved the financial conditions of employees,” he said.