The Problem with Aid: International Donations Not Always Welcome in Gaza
The aid shipment that the Palestinian activists' flotilla was hoping to bring to Gaza before they were halted by Israeli commandos is now awaiting delivery. But Hamas will only let the badly needed goods into the territory under certain conditions. In the Gaza Strip, aid is not always greeted with enthusiasm.
Having built a three-storey house in Jabalia, north of Gaza City, Zaed Khadar used to be a proud homeowner. He ran a supermarket from the ground floor and made enough profit there to provide for his seven children. His wife bred chickens on the roof. Then came the Gaza War, a three-week conflict between December 2008 and January 2009, and suddenly Khadar's life was in ruins. His neighborhood, his house and his business were all destroyed. Since then, the 46-year-old has been helpless in every sense of the word. Donations coming to the Gaza Strip from both large and small aid organizations never arrive at the Khadars'.
Hamas Members Take and Distribute 'at Their Own Discretion'
The reason his family receives nothing: Like many of his neighbors, Khadar is a die-hard supporter of the Fatah party, the sworn political enemy of the more radical Islamists in Hamas. That's why Khadar has little hope of seeing any of the 10,000 tons of aid that the activist flotilla heading for the Gaza Strip tried to bring to Gaza's harbor at the start of this week.
The mostly Turkish-flagged aid convoy that attempted to break the Israeli blockade never made it to Gaza. Israel stopped the flotilla by boarding the flagship in a bloody commando mission. Nine activists died and more than 30 were injured, along with seven Israeli soldiers.
Humantarian Aid Becomes a Political Game
The bulk of the goods, which were temporarily confiscated, have since been released by Israel and brought to the Gaza border. But now there's another problem: Hamas is playing politics. The autocratic rulers of the Gaza Strip have placed conditions on aid delivery. The goods are not to be brought into the territory piece by piece, but all at once. All or nothing. By making these demands Hamas wants to ensure the building materials are all handed over. Since the end of the war Israel has impeded delivery of cement and steel because these items could be used for military facilities, including tunnels and bunkers.
Aid has become a political football, which is why a sack of cement, smuggled into Gaza through tunnels from Egypt, still costs $50 (around 40). Before the blockade it would have cost $7 (around 6). "I invested my total savings -- $5,000 -- in cement for our emergency shelter," Khadar notes. And he appeals to aid organizations to do everything they can to try and deliver their goods directly to the citizens of Gaza. Hamas should not be allowed to get hold of it. Khadar becomes particularly enraged when he talks about his neighbors behind the dune. The Hamas prime minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, recently gave them a brand new house, complete and ready for them to move in.
'I Just Happened to Be the Winner'
And indeed, Khadar's neighbor, Aderauf al-Batsch's front door boasts a commemorative plaque celebrating that memorable event. The 35-year-old homeowner does not dispute his relationship to Hamas, but he does dispute any accusations of preference. "The construction ministry held a lottery to win a new home. And I just happened to be the winner," Batsch explains. Does he think it's a strange coincidence that he, the neighborhood's only Hamas supporter, should have won the contest? No. "Sometimes in life you get lucky," he says.
Since Israel's retreat from Gaza in the summer of 2005, Israel has enforced economic sanctions on the territory, and gradually tightened them. Whenever something happens -- when Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006, when militants captured Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit in 2006, when Hamas took control of the coastal strip in 2007 -- Israel has restricted the flow of goods even further. Egypt, the other nation adjacent to Gaza, keeps its border closed most of the time. (The border did open for humanitarian aid this week, after the naval raid.) The administration in Cairo worries that a perceived Hamas success in Gaza will only inflame Egypt's own radical Islamists' fantasies of political power.
'We Will Not Take Any Gifts That Are Blood Stained'
The United Nations (UN) has called the Israeli blockade of goods and people a form of "collective punishment." According to UN estimates, around 80 percent of the 1.5 million inhabitants of the Gaza Strip are living under the poverty line, and 42 percent are unemployed as the economy has virtually ground to a halt. On Thursday, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, again called for an end to the blockade.
Donations Are 'Bad For Business'
There are people in Gaza though who will never be happy about the arrival of the aid. "Everything that arrives here, and is distributed free of charge, is bad for business," says one Palestinian pharmacist, who studied in Germany but preferred not to give his name for fear of reprisals. Every medicine and every toy that well-meaning Westerners donate endanger the few jobs that still remain in Gaza, he explains. A colleague at another pharmacy agrees. "We are being bred into dependency," he says, repeating the universal adage that guides international aid: "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. But if you give him a fishing rod, you feed him for a lifetime."
Before Gaza can stand on its feet again and take care of itself, however, the Israeli blockade must end. That is the one thing that former homeowner Khadar, the pharmacists, Hamas, and the UN seem to agree upon.
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