Why Are Gaza’s Arabs So Poor?
The Arabs living in the Gaza Strip are suffering. Thousands of Hamas terrorists are using them as human shields, making it almost impossible for Israeli forces to fight the terrorists without endangering civilians.
The difficulty of living in Gaza is not new, however. For years, economic hardship has been the lot of those living in Gaza and the West Bank. Yet this hardship is not shared by their leaders. A Saudi Arabian publication quotes “a senior Palestinian Authority official” as saying that roughly “1,700 senior Hamas officials (are) millionaires.” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh holds an estimated personal fortune of roughly $4 billion. Another, Khaled Mashal, claims a cool $5 billion.
Yet the Gazan Arabs suffer. According to the United Nations, “The unemployment rate in Gaza is 47% and more than 80% of its population lives in poverty,” yet Hamas just launched “an armed force of thousands equipped with rockets and drones and [has] built a vast web of tunnels under Gaza,” write journalists Dan De Luce and Lisa Cavazuti. The tunnels, which Hamas admits might total more than 300 miles in length, are used to smuggle in all manner of goods and are also used “to transport people and goods, to store rockets and ammunition caches, and house Hamas command and control centers.”
Hamas exists to destroy Israel, but it supports itself through an extensive and complex financial network. According to Matthew Levitt, a former counterterrorism official, most of Hamas’s budget (roughly $300 million) comes from “taxes on business, as well as from countries including Iran and Qatar or charities.” The Treasury Department notes that Hamas even has an investment portfolio that includes a crypto currency component and estimates its “secret network of companies” are managing “$500 million of investments in companies from Turkey to Saudi Arabia.”
There are other reasons why the Arabs living in the Gaza Strip are poor. The joint Egyptian-Israeli blockade has made things difficult for thousands of them. Yet given Hamas’s objective of obliterating Israel and its Jewish citizens, as well as the organization’s disdain for Egypt’s version of Islam, self-protection by both countries necessitates sealed borders.
At the same time, humanitarian aid has flowed into Gaza for years. The Associated Press reports that from 2014 through 2020, “U.N. agencies spent nearly $4.5 billion in Gaza, including $600 million in 2020 alone” — the lion’s share of this assistance coming from the United States. Qatar has sent $1.3 billion in aid since 2012; this funding has been designated for construction, health services, and agriculture. The AP notes that tens of millions of dollars also are given by Egypt, Germany, and several other European nations.
Given the relatively small population of Gaza (about two million people) and the substantial funding provided for them, the years both before and after Hamas’s iron grip should have seen growing prosperity. Yet hundreds of thousands of Arabs in this tiny strip of land (about 141 square miles) languish in poverty.
It is not hard to conclude that Hamas has for many years siphoned funding away from the needy people it ostensibly represents for the bank accounts of its scandalously wealthy leaders and its increasingly well-armed military wing. For example, since October 7 Hamas has fired 7,000 rockets into Israel. What is less well-known is that in 2021, Hamas shot more than 3,600 missiles into Israel. The sheer volume of these attacks indicates that a substantial investment has been made — for many years — to build such an arsenal.
It is heartbreaking to consider the sad fate of a people the majority of whom likely want to live in a place of peace, stability, and economic opportunity. It outrages any sense of justice to think they are under the cruel thumb of an organization enflamed by anti-Semitic hatred and led by paragons of greed. There is no quick resolution to their unwelcome quandary.
Israel is in the crosshairs of danger, from Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and numerous other terrorist groups, all of which are supported by the demonic regime in Iran. So, as Hamas decreases, the danger to Israel might well increase. But a cease-fire with Hamas would be even less welcome. Once and for all, Israel needs the tools — the military materiel and funding — to siphon away the moral bile with which Hamas infects Gaza’s entire system. In other words, to destroy Hamas as conclusively as possible.
Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.