Late compensation payments compound Gaza traders’ misery

Nagham Mohanna

The National  /  October 22, 2021

Store owners take on debt to get started again

Five months on from an 11-day bombardment of Gaza by Israeli forces, the clean-up continues.

The estimated 1,500 strikes on the enclave killed more than 260 people, including 66 children. Fire by Hamas killed 10 people in Israel.

In the wake of the conflict, Hamas – who govern the strip – said it would co-ordinate donations from states and NGOs and hand out the cash for reconstruction.

Hisham al-Sousi said he incurred costs of about $200,000 when his fashion shop, Action, was destroyed in the bombing. Located in the heart of Gaza city, the building was destroyed completely, including his family home and two floors of shop space.

He says he could not afford to wait for promised compensation to arrive.

“I was sure that I would not be compensated, people who were affected from the previous war didn’t get any compensation yet, so I didn’t wait and reopened my store again,” Mr Al-Sousi told The National.

Just 100 metres from the rubble-strewn site of his old shop, Mr Al-Sousi has reopened, selling accessories and bags on the first floor, and scarves and slippers on the second.

To catch the Eid trade and back-to-school crowds, he borrowed $100,000 from fellow traders and family members with a promise to repay within a year.

“I have a good name at the market so I don’t want to lose my customers, I started immediately after the war to prepare the new store,” he said.

Even if some money is released to pay those who lost their livelihoods and homes in the bombings, Mr Al-Sousi believes it would amount to only a quarter of the amount he lost.

He spent 15 years building his business, and has carried on despite numerous stoppages caused by war.

“Unfortunately, there is no ambition in Gaza. We live without hope because at any time a war could happen again and we lose everything in an eye blink, but we are a strong nation and we don’t stop,” he said.

A rapid damage and needs assessment conducted by the World Bank Group, United Nations and the European Union in the month after the conflict ended, estimated the value of the physical damage caused by the conflict at between $290 million and $380 million. Recovery needs are estimated at up to $485m during the first 24 months.

The damage and rebuilding have compounded Gazans’ suffering. Recurrent hostilities over the past three decades, restrictions on the movement of people and commercial goods at border crossings, limits to fishing off Gaza’s coast, and the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic were already pushing the population of two million to the brink.

Yasser al-Sadawi, 45, estimates he lost $90,000 when an air strike hit the building next door to his clothing store, destroying the building and his stock.

“I was shocked when I heard that the building would be targeted, but after a while I thanked my God that we are OK and I can re-build everything from the beginning” he said.

Mr Al-Sadawi submitted a claim to Gaza’s Ministry of Economy, including receipts for stock and estimated repair costs for the store, but has heard nothing of any incoming cash assistance.

“I can’t wait till I take any compensation, there are people waited for two years and didn’t get any compensation till now, so I rent new shop and started from the beginning,” Mr Al-Sadawi said.

He borrowed money from other traders to restart the business, a sum he estimates will take three years to repay.

“I have been 12 years in my previous location. I feel so depressed when I pass there and see what happened to the area,” he said.

Mr al-Sadawi moved to the next block in the Al-Remal neighbourhood but said his loyal customers do not know where to find him.

The Ministry of Economy said rehousing those who lost their homes has taken precedence over businesses.

“A committee was formed and gathered the ministry of economy, the UNDP, UNRWA and the Union of Industrialists and made plans for rehabilitating the industrial sector that was affected by the last war and previous wars, and offered it for the donors,” said Osama Nofal, general manager of studies at the ministry.

“Until now we haven’t received any answers regarding the economic sector because the donors, especially the Arab countries such as Qatar and Egypt, are focusing on housing sector,” he said.

Mr Nofal said the ministry has tried to ease the pressure on the traders by exempting them from industrial and commercial licence fees. he said the 11 days of conflict could cost the sector $74m.

Taxi driver Mahmoud al-Khodari’s vehicle was hit by an Israeli missile while he was transporting a group of journalists working for Turkey’s Anadolu Agency. The cost of repair was $9,000, but when he submitted a claim to the Ministry of Transport and Communication, they estimated his loss was just $4,000. Even this sum he has not yet received.

“I kept going to ask for any compensation but I don’t get any answer,” he said. Like Mr Al-Sousi and Mr Al-Sadawi, Mr Al-Khodair was forced to take matters into his own hands and fix the car himself.

“This car is the only source of living for me, how will I feed my family if I wait for compensation,” he said

Nagham Mohanna is a print journalist at the Gaza Center for Media Freedom