A key refrain in the Israeli-Palestinian narrative is the issue of the Palestinian poverty, allegedly resulting from the Israeli occupation. Surveys cite statistics that anywhere from 26 to 53 percent of Palestinians are poor. In October 2018, the United Nations warned that humanitarian aid to the Palestinians is at an all-time low, a sign of increasing Palestinian poverty.
This raises several key questions:
- How poor are the Palestinians relative to other economies?
- Is Palestinian poverty evenly distributed at all levels of society?
- What is being done to remedy Palestinian poverty and is it effective?
- Are there other nationalities that are poor, but do not get the attention that poor Palestinians get?
- Is Palestinian poverty a legitimate reason for the belligerent actions of its leaders?
The default reason for Palestinian poverty is “Israeli occupation.” Thus, by extension, since Israel wishes to prolong the occupation, Palestinian poverty is in Israel’s interest. As the argument goes, Israel wishes to force its enemy into submission and therefore keeps the Palestinians impoverished. This argument however doesn’t account for something befuddling – the wealth of the Palestinian leadership. If a nation wishes to defeat another nation, it looks to weaken the other nation’s leaders. In the case of the Palestinians:
Professor Ahmed Karima of Al-Azhar University in Egypt claims that Hamas has some 1,200 millionaires among its members, but is unwilling to reveal his sources.
Corroborating this claim, albeit on a lesser scale, Deborah Danan writes:
Pan-Arab London based paper, Asharq al Awsat, which is considered a reliable media outlet, recently ran a story saying there are 600 millionaires in Gaza.
Moreover, as Ynet detailed:
In 2010, Egyptian magazine Rose al-Yusuf reported that [Hamas leader Ismael] Haniyeh paid for $4 million for a 2,500 m sq parcel of land area in Rimal, a tiny beachfront neighborhood of Gaza City.
Haniyeh is not alone, as Dr. Moshe Elad states:
‘Global estimates say (Hamas leader Khaled) Mashaal is worth $2.6 billion,’ but Arab commentators, with other sources, say he is worth between 2 and 5 billion, ‘invested in Egyptian banks and Gulf countries, some in real estate projects.’
Lest one surmise that Hamas is the only movement with wealthy leaders, UK media outlet The Sun informs us that, as of June 2018, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ net worth is $100 million. Hard to argue that he is in any financial straits at that figure. In fact, even Al Jazeera stated that Abbas’ sons enjoy a personal wealth that eludes nearly all their compatriots.
Clearly, it doesn’t seem that the leaders are interested in sharing the wealth. In fact, as the BBC reported in June 2019, leaked documents showed Palestinian ministers’ monthly salaries were increased in 2017 from $3,000 (£2,360) to $5,000 (£3,930) (i.e., a 67% raise). The raise was so alarming that UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov said such moves “defy logic and anger people” when Palestinians were struggling with economic hardship. This was right after the PA said in March of the same year that it would have to halve the wages of all but its lowest-earning employees, or the 40% of the workforce that takes home $555 or less a month.
The financial gap was so alarming, even the aforementioned Al Jazeera was left wondering “are the financial blessings [of the Palestinians] merely the result of being “Grade A businessmen,” as Yasser [Arafat] once famously remarked?” Good question, for this, we are informed by Ynet:
According to sources in Gaza, Haniyeh’s wealth, like others high up in Hamas, came primarily from the flourishing tunnel industry. Senior Hamas figures, Haniyeh included, would levy 20 percent taxation on all of the trade passing through the tunnels.
That’s a full 20% (!) that instead of helping poor Palestinians, is used to pad the pockets of their leaders. Moreover, this means that if more donations flow into the Gaza Strip, before it is determined how to help the poor Palestinians, the leaders skim off their share off the top and in turn get wealthier. Accordingly, the poorer the Palestinian people are portrayed, the more wealth opportunities for their leaders.
Although the leadership siphons a significant share of funds, perhaps the Palestinians are still poor and need support, correct? Compared to other countries, not really. As stated in Ynet:
According to a World Bank report released in November (2013), the Gaza Strip ranks third in the Arab region in terms of poverty, ranking above only Sudan and Yemen. Furthermore, of the 144 countries included in the report, Gaza was the 44th poorest, with most of the countries with a higher poverty rate being located in Africa.
See if anyone can recall demonstrations to improve the harsh conditions in any of the other 40+ countries poorer than the Palestinians.
More recent 2017 data provided by the United Nations provides more a more alarming perspective on Palestinian poverty. Using the general barometer for a country’s wealth, Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the (sic) State of Palestine’s $2,946 per capita far exceeds the aforementioned South Sudan ($453) and Yemen ($990), and interestingly exceeds Egypt ($2,000). If a country’s GDP is high, yet the common man is destitute, this again is a sign of uneven income distribution, furthering the point that keeping the Palestinian poor serves exploits the Palestinians for the personal gain of its uber-rich leaders.
Indeed, corruption, lack of proper accounting, super-rich leaders at the expense of a poor public are all tell-tale sign of ruthless despots, except in the case of Palestinian where blame can easily be improperly placed elsewhere. Tellingly, while Egypt’s GDP is lower than that of the Palestinians, description of the poor Egyptians and rallies for their support are non-existent.
In 2006, author Michael Lewis wrote the New York Times best-seller, “The Blind Side,” which detailed the rags to riches story of Michael Oher, a homeless- impoverished African American who, through the love of others was able to overcome his innate financial hardships to eventually become a highly recruited football player. Oprah Winfrey, who had to wear potato sacks because her family could not afford clothing, and had to endure sexual abuse at a Boarding school while her unwed mom looked for work, overcame her poverty-stricken upbringing to become the first black woman on Forbes 400 richest people in America. These heartwarming stories are celebrated internationally as achievements of those who are underprivileged.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the Palestinian cause, destitute is a rallying cry exploited by its leaders, enabled by the media and international organizations as unwitting abettors in enhancing the supreme wealth imbalance of its powerful leaders.
Source material can be found at this site.