TEL AVIV, Israel – A Hamas government decision to buy 36 new cars for senior public servants has caused a backlash on Palestinian social media, with Gaza residents criticizing the ruling Islamist group for splurging during times of economic distress.
Some of the critics are active Hamas members, who complain that the government went too far by renewing its vehicle fleet for the third time in five years. This while the Hamas government has consistently been unable to pay employee salaries on time.
“While public servants cannot afford bread to feed their children, and I mean every word, the treasury approves a decision to buy new cars,” wrote Rami Rayan, an civil service employee of Hamas’s Interior Ministry, to his 2,108 followers on Facebook.
And those who pushed it forward are the people who see themselves as the heirs of Omar [ibn al Khattab, one of Mohammed’s associates, who was known for his modesty and fairness]??! How can the prestige of a public official mean more to you than the empty stomach of a child??!! How do you expect us to believe your empty rhetoric about compassion and solidarity when you behave in this satanic way??!
Other Gazans identified with Rayan’s dismay. One wrote: “Be careful, or you’ll eat your lunch tomorrow at the Interior Minister’s office.” Another commented sarcastically: “It’s the money they collected from cigarette smugglers, it’s dirty money, that’s why they don’t use it to pay you.” While a third commenter wrote, also sarcastically: “It’s their country and their money, they can do whatever they want with it.”
Dr Muuzer Janjuri, a community activist and Hamas supporter, wrote on Facebook:
You in government, don’t you fear Allah? People are dying of hunger; workers find themselves on increasingly longer waiting lists; university graduates are unemployed; you pay your employees a pittance as if they were charity cases; and then you pamper your officials with new cars?? I fail to see which religion, common sense or morals allow you to do it… Have you no sense of decency?
Following the controversy, Hamas’s Treasury released a statement, saying that “the motion is meant to replace dilapidated cars that are almost out of order in keeping with the public’s economic interests during these harsh times and in accordance with the strictest rules of transparency.”
The statement added that replacing old cars is a longstanding policy which is meant to reduce maintenance and fuel consumption costs. “The new cars have smaller engines, and are much more efficient when it comes to maintenance costs.”
In May, the World Bank released an estimate finding Gaza’s economy was near collapse, with the highest unemployment rate in the world. “Gaza’s unemployment and poverty figures are very troubling and the economic outlook is worrying. The current market in Gaza is not able to offer jobs leaving a large population in despair particularly the youth,” stated Steen Lau Jorgensen, World Bank Country Director for West Bank and Gaza.
The World Bank report found:
Gaza’s real GDP is only a couple of percentage points higher now than it was 20 years ago in 1994, while the population growth is estimated to have increased by about 230 percent over the same period. Consequently, real per capita income in Gaza is 31 percent lower now than in 1994.
…Gaza’s population suffers from poor access and quality of basic public services such as electricity, water, and sewerage. Nearly 80 percent of Gaza’s population receives some kind of social assistance, and nearly 40 percent of them still fall below the poverty line. While shocking, these numbers fail to fully convey the difficult living conditions that nearly all Gaza’s residents have been experiencing.