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Gazans fume over new Hamas tax

Hamas officials say tax on non-essentials is needed to avoid ‘collapse’; merchants foresee decrease in sales.

The Islamist group Hamas, which controls the densely populated Gaza Strip, has added another burden to the lives of residents of Gaza with the introduction of new import taxes on items considered non-essential. The announcement has local merchants fuming, with some threatening to cease imports into Gaza altogether.

Over 400 items will be affected, including a variety of crops, meat, fruits, vegetables, clothing and electronics. Most of the items are imports from Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
546427601000100490326noSome of the fruits and vegetables in this Gaza market will be subject to a new tax. (Photo: Reuters)

“The purpose of the law is to ease the suffering of the poor in the Gaza Strip,” said Ahmad Abu Halbiya, a member of Hamas’s parliamentary block who passed the new tax. “We’ll collapse as a society in Gaza if we do not impose these taxes. It’s not much but it will benefit the citizens of Gaza – especially the security police who need money for cars.” Abu Halbiya said that flour and medicines, as essential goods, would be exempt from the tax.

Abu Halbiya acknowledged that Hamas’s 40,000 employees will be the main recipients of the new tax revenue.

The new tax was drafted after members of parliament studied the basic needs of the people of Gaza, said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesperson. Abu Zuhri justified the decision by saying that “The civil servants of Gaza haven’t received regular salaries in over a year. The Strip cannot function without civil servants, who are the pillar of every state.” The tax will be brought in gradually so as to not overly burden Gazans, starting at around 1% and eventually increasing to 10%.

The payment of civil servants in Gaza has been a controversy in the past with Hamas and Fatah, which controls the West Bank, disputing who should cover the cost of workers wages.

“The introduction of these types of taxes is unacceptable to the Palestinian private sector, at this time,” Nabil Abu Meilq, President
of the Palestinian Contractors in Gaza, told The Media Line. He explained that merchants and citizens should have been considered when this tax was proposed and that not enough time was spent discussing the effects that the new ruling will have. In the context of Gaza’s damaged economy, which has deteriorated since the fighting with Israel in 2014, this tax will make things worse as customers will simply buy less and this in turn will affect merchants, he said.

Dozens of merchants recently gathered in front of the Gazan legislative building to demand abolition of the import taxes.

“Life here gets impossible, we can’t take it anymore,” Saleem Nazal, a merchant at the gathering told The Media Line. “Further decisions like this will lead to more families dying in the Mediterranean Sea, looking for a better life away from Gaza.” Nazal said that if the government decision were to go through then he would no longer be able to afford to import fruit and vegetables.

But not everybody was sympathetic to the merchants. Jamal Nassar, a Hamas member of parliament, said he could not understand the vendors’ rage.

“The (price) increase falls on the consumer, not on you,” he told a group of merchants, “so why this vicious attack? None of you are affected; it’s the citizens who are. If I am bad to the citizen, let him not vote for me.”

Nassar’s comments at a press conference provoked some Hamas parliamentarians, and members of the Popular Front Party (PFP), to publically distance themselves from the tax. Parliamentarians said that the taxation would lead to additional unemployment and poverty and that Nasser’s tone towards the electorate would cause people to turn on Hamas.

“Such laws will defeat Hamas from the inside,” Fathi El-Sheikh, a parliamentarian from the Islamic party, told The Media Line. “More limitations and the imposition of additional taxes on food and clothing will cause people to turn against Hamas for the first time.” Increased taxes and the existing limitations on the hours of electricity available in the Gaza Strip, with unemployment at 55%, risked creating an explosion which Hamas would not be able to control, said El-Sheikh.

Electricity supply in Gaza has long been intermittent with many homes receiving only a few hours of electricity a day.


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