Gaza Strip | A war economy emerges under the bombs

(Deir al-Balah) On tables and desks in schools-turned-shelters, wartime vendors line a street, selling used clothes, baby formula, canned goods and, rarely, homemade cookies.


Posted at 1:25 a.m.

Updated at 6:00 a.m.

Raja Abdulrahim and Bilal Shbair

The New York Times

In some cases, entire packages of aid – still adorned with the flags of donor countries and meant to be distributed for free – have been piled up on sidewalks and sold at prices few people can afford.

Issam Hamouda, 51, stood next to his meager commercial offering: an assortment of canned vegetables and beans from a box of aid his family had received.

Most of the products found in the markets carry the label “prohibited for sale,” he explains.

Before the war between Israel and Hamas devastated the economy of the Gaza Strip, he was a driving instructor. Today, Hamouda supports his family of eight the only way he has: by selling part of the food aid they receive every two weeks.

“I once received four kilos of dried dates and sold one kilo for 8 shekels,” he says, referring to the Israeli currency which is equivalent to about 3 Canadian dollars.

Only the essential

In the seven months since Israel began bombing Gaza and imposed a siege in response to the Hamas-led attack on October 7, the enclave’s economy has been destroyed. Residents were forced to flee their homes and jobs. Markets, factories and infrastructure were bombed and razed. Agricultural lands have been burned by airstrikes or occupied by Israeli forces.

Instead, a war economy emerged. It is a survival market focused on the essentials: food, shelter and money.

type="image/webp"> type="image/jpeg">>>

PHOTO MOHAMMED ABED, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE ARCHIVES

Displaced Palestinians buy fish in Rafah on April 10.

Humanitarian aid labeled “not for resale” and looted items end up in makeshift markets. People can earn a few dollars a day evacuating displaced people in the backs of trucks or donkey carts, while others dig toilets or make tents from plastic sheeting and scrap wood.

Given the growing humanitarian crisis and deep despair, waiting in line is now a full-time job, whether at aid distribution sites, the few bakeries open, or the few ATMs or exchange shops.

It is a “subsistence economy”, underlined Raja Khalidi, a Palestinian economist based in the West Bank occupied by Israel.

This is not a war like we have seen before, where a certain area is targeted, while other areas are less affected and can quickly re-engage on economic terms. From the first month, the economy was shut down.

Raja Khalidi, Palestinian economist

According to a recent report by the World Bank, the European Union and the United Nations, the majority of Palestinians in Gaza today struggle with poverty on multiple levels, going beyond lack of income, including limited access to health care, education and housing. About 74% of the population is unemployed, according to the report. Before the war, the unemployment rate, although high in many respects, was 45 percent.

The shock to Gaza’s economy is one of the largest in recent history, according to the report. Gaza’s gross domestic product fell by 86% in the final quarter of 2023.

Humanitarian aid

Israel’s Defense Ministry said its strikes on Gaza were not aimed at damaging the enclave’s economy and were targeting Hamas’ “terrorist infrastructure.”

The economy is now largely reliant on tight supply and desperate demand for aid. Before the war, some 500 trucks carrying humanitarian aid, fuel and commercial goods entered the Gaza Strip every day.

type="image/webp"> type="image/jpeg">>>

PHOTO AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Palestinian civilians rush onto humanitarian aid trucks near Nuseirat in the central Gaza Strip on Saturday

After the war began and Israel imposed new restrictions, that number dropped significantly to 113 per day on average, although it has increased slightly in recent months. Even with these improvements, that figure falls well short of what aid organizations say is needed to feed Palestinians.

Today, the delivery of aid and goods has virtually stopped, following the Israeli attack on the southern city of Rafah and the almost complete closure of the two main crossings -borders.

Hunger is spreading across the enclave, in what human rights and humanitarian aid groups have called Israel’s exploitation of the famine. Israel has denied the accusations.

In this context of conflict, chaos and anarchy, prices have skyrocketed. Since the Rafah incursion, goods have become even more expensive. And for the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fleeing the Israeli offensive, transportation away from airstrikes costs hundreds of dollars.

Even before the situation in Rafah deteriorated, aid deliveries were inconsistent and chaotic due to Israeli military restrictions, creating desperation and providing opportunities for armed gangs or individuals to engage in looting. , according to locals.

The Israeli military said it would “never deliberately target convoys and aid workers.” It added that it would continue to counter threats “while working to mitigate harm to civilians.”

Fortune markets

In the absence of sufficient aid, residents have to turn to makeshift markets. Goods can be sold there at whatever price the sellers choose. Prices often follow the escalation of the conflict.

Recently, sugar was sold in Rafah markets for 7 shekels, less than 3 Canadian dollars. The next day, Hamas fired more than a dozen rockets at Israeli forces near the Kerem Shalom crossing between Gaza and Israel, leading to its closure. In the hours that followed, the price rose to 25 shekels. The next day, the price of sugar fell to 20 shekels.

“The same item can be sold at different prices in the same market,” explains Sabah Abu Ghanem, 25, mother of one and former surfer.

When the police are present, traders sell the items at the price set by the police. When the police leave, prices immediately increase.

Sabah Abu Ghanem, resident of the Gaza Strip

Residents say officials and ministries associated with the Hamas government are present in one capacity or another, particularly in the south.

While some Palestinians say police tried to force war profiteers to sell goods at inflationary prices, others have accused Hamas of benefiting from the looted aid.

type="image/webp"> type="image/jpeg">>>

PHOTO ARCHIVES AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Palestinians watch the smoke coming from Israeli bombings on the Firas market in Gaza City on April 11.

Hamouda said the aid his family occasionally received came from the Hamas-run Ministry of Social Development, which oversees welfare programs.

According to him, parcels were often missing a few items, especially foods like sugar, dates or cooking oil. Other times, they received only a few canned vegetables in black plastic bags. Food items missing from aid packages end up being sold at high prices in markets.

Ismael Thawabteh, deputy director of the Hamas government’s media office, explained that the ministry received about a quarter of the aid brought to Gaza, which it then distributed. “Allegations that the Gaza government is stealing aid are absolutely false and incorrect,” he said.

The looting of aid is the work of a small number of people whom Israel has driven to despair, according to Mr. Thawabteh. He added that the Hamas government had tried to curb the looting, but its police and security personnel had been targeted by Israeli airstrikes.

The Israeli military said it targeted police officers and commanders, as well as posts and vehicles, as it attempts to “dismantle Hamas’ military and administrative capabilities.”

With most jobs gone, people found new ways to earn a few dollars, as the war created new needs.

Many of Gaza’s displaced residents live in tents, so making temporary shelters and bathrooms has become a cottage industry.

Tents made of thin plastic sheets and wooden planks can be sold for up to 3,000 shekels, or about C$1,100, according to residents in the town of Rafah. Unable to pay, others cobbled together their own tents with tarps and scrap wood.

Difficult to get your own money

Even having access to one’s own money to pay the exorbitant prices of war allowed some to profit from the crisis.

Few ATMs still operate in the Gaza Strip, and those that do are usually clogged with people trying to withdraw their money. Often, an armed person monitors the ATM and charges for its use. Money changers offer people access to their own money in exchange for high commissions.

“I could only get my salary from some people who took a 17 percent commission on the total amount of money,” said Ekrami Osama al-Nims, a civil servant and father of seven displaced children to the south.

He tried several times to get a bag of flour from aid trucks – despite the risk of being shot at by Israeli soldiers, he said – to avoid having to buy it at the market black. But he never succeeded.

“My salary allowed us to cover an entire month of food and other basic needs,” he said. Today, my salary doesn’t even allow me to buy half a bag of flour. »

This article was published in the New York Times.

Read the original version of the article (in English; subscription required)

-

-

PREV in Italy, a vote in the shadow of “Giorgia” posters
NEXT Europeans at the polls, the far right hopes to shake up the political game