Palestinians Expected To Continue Protesting Desperate Economic Situation In Gaza Strip

Apr 5, 2018
Originally published on April 6, 2018 2:56 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Israelis and Palestinians are gearing up for another big protest tomorrow along the Gaza border. Palestinians say Israeli troops have killed at least 19 people and injured hundreds during a week of protests near the border. Israel says Hamas, which controls Gaza, is encouraging violent protests to distract Palestinians from their economic problems, problems like a roughly 40 percent unemployment rate. As NPR's Daniel Estrin reports, many Palestinians say the economy drives the unrest.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: At the Gaza border, I meet young Palestinian men with bandaged legs and hands from last week's protests. And yet they came back to protest again.

SAMEH SARSAK: They have nothing in their pocket. They have no money. And they are despaired. And they come here to express about their angers - nothing more.

ESTRIN: Sameh Sarsak is a 33-year-old Palestinian who came to a sit-in at the border to demand Palestinians' return to lands lost to Israel. He said Gaza's economic situation helps drive them here. He himself is a nurse but can't find work.

What do you do all day?

SARSAK: Nothing - sleeping all the day and staying up all the night.

ESTRIN: Why do you stay up at night?

SARSAK: Thinking about my bright future. And I think I will - I don't have a bright future here in Gaza.

ESTRIN: The Gazan economy has been in a downward spiral for a decade.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Arabic).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: It's reflected at this pharmacy. This man came to buy a packet of pills that cost eight shekels. He's two shekels short. That's about 60 cents he can't afford. He begs the pharmacist to let him pay the rest later. The pharmacist says the man already owes him money but agrees to let it fly. He says in the last year, more and more clients are buying their medicines on credit. He explains why.

UNIDENTIFIED PHARMACIST: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: He says it's because Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, determined to pressure Hamas, has reduced salaries to government workers in Gaza. But Omar Shaban, a Gazan economist and political analyst, says the biggest problem is the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip since Hamas took over a decade ago.

OMAR SHABAN: The crisis is a political thing. Somebody decided to make our life difficult, not because we suffer from lack of resources. So what (unintelligible) done? Remove the siege. Let people trade freely.

ESTRIN: Israel says it can't allow open borders with what it considers a terror group. But even Israeli officials have been concerned about hardships on ordinary Gazans. Only four hours of power a day and sewage and water problems can cause unrest. The White House is trying to drum up international donations for infrastructure projects. But economist Shaban says that's not enough. He said Gazans need an open economy and mobility. He said he delivered this message to President Trump's Mideast peace adviser recently.

SHABAN: I was so clear with him when I met him. I said, jobs give people hope. Don't give - don't push young people to go to the other direction.

ESTRIN: There are men on crutches in line outside a Gazan bank. Hamas distributed $200 vouchers to those wounded by Israeli fire. The vouchers say it's to cover medical expenses. The Israeli army says these payments just encourage more violence at the border. Daniel Estrin. NPR News. Gaza City.

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