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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 February 2019

Palestinians mock Qatar's conditional handouts to buy Gaza's silence

Residents of the enclave are criticising Doha's ‘humiliating’ donations in return for quiet on Israel’s border

Palestinians gather to receive money aid from Qatar government to poor families in Gaza city on November 10, 2018. AFP
Palestinians gather to receive money aid from Qatar government to poor families in Gaza city on November 10, 2018. AFP

Since Qatar’s announcement in November of a series of $15 million donations to Gaza over six months, the new cash flow – delivered in suitcases – has become a controversial subject among the Palestinian public.

The funding is predominantly intended to fuel Gaza’s decaying power plant, which has now increased the enclave’s electricity intake from six to eight hours per day, and fulfill the salaries of civil servants under administration of the territory’s rulers Hamas.

But Palestinians across the political spectrum are expressing dissatisfaction at the donations that are seemingly conditional on Gazans maintaining quiet on Israel’s border, where its military has killed hundreds of civilians participating in weekly rallies since March.

Under the hashtag “diesel and dollars,” Palestinians have mocked the payments that flow into the besieged strip through Israel and at the request of its hard-right government. Israel tried to stop the weekly protests through force but is now allowing funds into the territory in a bid for calm.

In one video, Palestinian artist and comedian Ali Nassman echoes the general dissatisfaction in Gaza with a new parody song released on Friday that shows Gazans dancing on cars, waving the Qatari flag and calling for Doha to send more money than it has pledged.

“Oh, Qatar! Hurry, hurry! Where are your diesel and dollars?” the lyrics of the song begin. It shows a mocked-up Qatari sheikh saying “we want calm”, mimicking the words allegedly used by Qatar’s Gaza envoy Mohamed Al Emadi on his visit to the enclave in November.

The song criticises Qatar for not coming to the impoverished territory’s aid until the weekly rallies broke out on March 30 against Israel’s siege.

“Qatar’s patience was wearing thin about funding Gaza’s besieged population until Gaza’s Great March of Return broke out,” Mr Nassman tells The National. “Then Qatar suddenly jumped into the picture to bargain on behalf of the international community, by offering some tentative help to Gaza.”

“I felt that silence was a betrayal, and so I decided to speak out,” Mr Nassman told The National. “I wanted to use dark comedy to represent the alarming reality we live in, and I came up with this parody song.”

Mr Nassman is not the only Gazan who has used art and singing to mock Qatar’s handouts. In November, activist Hussam Khalaf posted a spontaneous song on Facebook in which he sings: “I’ll write on dollar papers, this support is from Qatar. Young people lost their limbs, so that we receive some diesel.”

Other people have posted similar videos mocking the meager amount they received. For instance, the Qatari donation program included a single handout to 5,000 unemployed university graduates of $100 each. Others expressed frustration at the overall picture of this temporary aid package that appears to benefit Israel but not the average Gazan.

Such is Israel’s control over the aid that it blocked the latest Qatari delivery earlier this month after a rocket was fired from Gaza. Mr Nassman’s song speaks of an end to the Gazan siege, and says all that residents have left is burning tyres and balloons, which they have flown into Israeli territory attached with flaming rags in response to Israeli fire on the weekly protests.

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The Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, which is at odds with Hamas, has accused the group of making Palestinian civil servants provide their fingerprints in return for their salaries, information they allege is then passed on to Israeli intelligence. Although no public evidence supports this claim, it demonstrates the mistrust within the territory about the money that passes through Israel before it reaches Gazan hands.

“One has to be blind in order not to see what’s actually going on,” Palestinian political analyst Ali Omer tells The National.

“Clearly, [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu needed to buy himself some calm until the Israeli Knesset elections are over,” Mr Omer continued, in reference to early elections in April.

“Qatar agreed, at Israel’s request, to function merely as the pay channel to Hamas, in order to buy its silence and to put an end to the protests of the Great Return March.”

Recent remarks made by exiled Palestinian politician Mohammed Dahlan have supported this argument. In an interview with Saudi-owned Al Hadath channel in December, he said the money “travels from Qatar to Ben Gurion airport, then to the Israeli ministry of security, then it’s handed to Qatar’s ambassador who brings it to Gaza in suitcases”.

Citing Qatar’s disproportionate cash handouts to Hamas as opposed to its modest contributions to international organisations that help Gaza in better ways like UNRWA, Mr Dahlan asserted that Qatar is “exploiting Gaza’s suffering to advance political demands,” knowing fully that “Hamas needs the money to survive”.

The song “shows that Gaza’s needs exceed by far the current inflow of donations,” says the comedian. Gaza needs more than the diesel and cash that he describes as “a small supply of painkillers” designed to keep its residents silent.

“All we want and strive for is a normal life,” he says.

Updated: January 20, 2019 06:33 PM

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