The government of Gaza, meaning, Hamas, in the months and years before October 7, explained the desperation of the population of Gaza. More than half the families lived in poverty. Nearly half the adults were unemployed. People lived without reliable access to food, water, medical care, and even bomb shelters.
Even allowing some skepticism about any particular claim, the overall picture comes clear: The people of Gaza suffered economic stagnation. The unemployment figure seems particularly striking, since tens of thousands of people must have been employed in designing, digging, building, and repairing tunnels. The Gazans built in these tunnels a massive public works project about half as large as the New York City subway system. Another huge group of people must have worked in factories, manufacturing rockets to shoot at Israel every day. Another group actually operated the rocket launchers. Another group must have been busy importing the materials for tunnel construction, for rocket building, and importing ready-to-use weaponry. And still the unemployed made up, according to Hamas, nearly half the population.
Certainly a fair share of the population engaged in agriculture, fishing, wholesale and retail commerce, and the professions, including medicine, dentistry, and law. And still there were so many unemployed, so many desperately poor.
How did that happen?
During this period, aid flowed into Gaza from several agencies of the United Nations and from other international non-governmental organizations, from the European Union, from Palestinian non-governmental organizations, from various charities, from the government of the United States of America, from Iran, and from several Arab nations, principally Qatar, and from the government of Israel. All this aid, worth billions of dollars, did not suffice to bring the preponderance of Gazans out of poverty.
Some Gazans have actually escaped poverty. Three leaders of the Hamas movement, Ismail Haniyeh, Moussa Abu Marzouk, and Khaleed Mashal, have reportedly amassed personal wealth in excess of 11 billion dollars. In the rest of the world, some have become billionaires by inventing techniques for internet commerce, or revolutionizing the manufacture of electronic vehicles, or developing investment instruments that we willingly purchase. The leaders of Hamas have acquired their wealth by other means. It seems likely that some of the money sent as aid to Gaza has helped enrich these leaders.
Much of the international aid money has gone to the Hamas militia. Presumably some, especially from Iran, was for that purpose directly. Other donations went through Hamas, and undoubtedly Hamas took its share before distributing any to the general public. Even donations sent through the United Nations Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNWRA) and other organizations often wound up in the hands of Hamas militias; Hamas has reportedly seized many donations from international sources that were meant to go directly to the public.
The aid money did not succeed in funding a water system or other public utilities. Gaza does not have bomb shelters for the general public; the tunnel system could serve as excellent bomb shelters, and does so, but only for Hamas fighters. Abu Marzouk, the Hamas leader in Qatar, has explained that the tunnels are only for the fighters.
How has does it happen that enormous amounts of aid money get pumped into the economy of Gaza and the population receives so little? It seems as if aid flows towards Gaza by fire hose, and arrives in trickles.
Abu Marzouk explains the situation frankly: Hamas has no responsibility to provide for the population of Gaza. As he explains, the United Nations, through the United Nations Relief Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA), has that responsibility. He further explains that Israel has responsibility for providing for the people of Gaza. Hamas, the elected government of Gaza, has responsibility only for the fighters.
In late December, the United Nations Security Council voted to establish a new mechanism to send aid, appointing Dutch diplomat Sigrid Kaag as senior humanitarian and reconstruction coordinator for Gaza. She has long experience in working for United Nations organizations, including UNRWA, and she speaks several languages, including Arabic. Her husband, a senior Palestinian official, has served in many official roles in Palestinian politics; three decades ago, he served as a deputy minister under Yasser Arafat.
This initiative will increase the fire hose of aid sent towards Gaza; it remains to be seen whether it will increase the trickle of aid that actually reaches Gazan civilians.