Friday, September 15, 2006

Cut Off, Gazan Economy Nears Collapse

It is difficult to exaggerate the economic collapse of Gaza, with the Palestinian Authority cut off from funds by Israel, the United States and the European Union after Hamas won the legislative elections on Jan. 25.

Since then, the authority has paid most of its 73,000 employees here, nearly 40 percent of Gaza’s work force, only 1.5 months’ salary, resulting in a severe economic depression and growing signs of malnutrition, especially among the poorest children.

In northern Gaza, in Beit Lahiya, where Israeli troops fought Palestinian gunmen during July, Atemad Abu Leilah, 33, lives in a hovel with her 11 children and her handicapped husband. He used to get $68 a month from the welfare ministry, but has received nothing for four months, she said.

She is a not a refugee, so is ineligible for refugee aid and like many here, gets by on casual work and the charity of neighbors.

She taps into wires in the street to take electricity illegally, and she has not bought her children school uniforms for the new school year. “I can’t afford to buy them notebooks,” she said.

She feeds her children greens, herbs, lentils and eggplant, and sometimes gets flour given by the World Food Program. “Forget about meat,” she said. “The last time we had chicken was a month ago.’’

Her relative, Ghalia Abu Leilah, 60, came by with a pot of yogurt she bought for her husband, who is dying of cancer, with money from a neighbor, she said.

A year ago, when the Israelis left, “We were very happy,” Atemad Abu Leilah said. “I voted for Hamas, for reform and change and improvement. But now I look at my kids and I regret my vote.”

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