For a long time, Jawahir Muhammad has struggled to raise her five children.
Three years ago, her husband, Ibrahim, died after years of severe health problems.
“My husband suffered a lot,” said Jawahir, 45, who lives in Gaza. “He was not able to feed his children, so I was forced to look for money from relatives and charities.”
Since her husband’s death, she has received 150 shekels ($40) per month for each of her children. Barely enough to buy basic groceries, the payments have now been cut off.
Al-Monasara, the charity which administered the payments, is unable to continue making them. Because of funding shortages, it recently halted its aid to approximately 100 families in Gaza.
“We realize how essential the money is for needy families,” said Alfat Salama, a representative of the charity. “But for budgetary reasons, we had to inform them that August was the last month that they would receive allowances.”
Based in Jordan, al-Monasara raises funds for Palestinians, particularly for children who have lost one or both of their parents. Lately, the charity has found itself in an unenviable position. With victims of the war in Syria requiring urgent assistance, it has become difficult to collect funds for people in Gaza.
“Our charity started to notice lately that less money is being given to Gaza,” said Salama. “Jordan has camps for Syrian refugees and they also badly need financial assistance.”
The problems faced by charities have been worsened by the siege Israel has imposed on Gaza for almost a decade.
Although 80 percent of Gaza’s inhabitants are dependent on humanitarian assistance, charities have faced a range of hurdles to deliver aid. Some aid workers have been denied entry to Gaza by the Israeli or Egyptian authorities.
Israel has also placed tight restrictions on the entry of construction materials to Gaza. As a result, the rebuilding of homes destroyed in the three major Israeli attacks on Gaza since December 2008 has been obstructed.
Furthermore, Israel has levied high charges on the transit of aid deliveries. UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, has reported that Israel required it to pay almost $1.5 million in transit charges for aid deliveries last year.
“Our work [in Gaza] has significantly decreased during the many years of the blockade,” said Ahmed al-Kurd, who coordinates projects run by Islamic Relief Worldwide. “That is despite how more people now need help from charities because of the deteriorating living standards in Gaza.”
Rather than being able to provide help all year, Islamic Relief has to focus more on particular seasons. Among its activities are providing very poor families with enough food to celebrate religious holidays such as Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. It also buys school uniforms for some children at the beginning of the academic year.
“We used to reach out to tens of thousands of destitute families,” said al-Kurd. “But now we can barely help 3,000 families. From time to time, we revise our data to make sure that we continue to serve those who are in acute need of our help.”
Al-Kurd confirmed, too, that donations for Gaza have shrunk because of the wars raging across the Middle East. Because wars are currently taking place in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya, Islamic Relief has had to prioritize getting aid to those countries. While Gaza is still recovering from a major military assault in 2014, it is receiving less attention from charities than those gripped by war.
Meanwhile, more than 30 charities in Gaza have reportedly had their bank accounts closed down in recent months — without explanation.
Abeer Alayan from the charity al-Ighatha said that her organization had been receiving donations from “generous Palestinians who live inside Israel, but the bank froze our account” a few months ago.
She had to open a personal account to allow the charity to continue processing donations. “We sponsor thousands of children who have lost their parents,” she said. “We also support families who do not have regular incomes by buying groceries and other essential items for them.”
The Bank of Palestine, where the charities’ accounts were held, stated that it did not prevent any transfer to orphans or the poor, and that it abides by the international banking standards and practices as required by the laws in force in Palestine. It refused to make any further comment when contacted by The Electronic Intifada.
Gaza’s charity workers have sometimes been targeted directly by Israel.
Israel has accused him of diverting funds to the military wing of Hamas. Yet those accusations have been rejected by World Vision.
While Israel alleges that El Halabi diverted up to $50 million to Hamas over the past six years, World Vision has insisted that would simply be impossible. Its aid program for Gaza amounts to less than $3 million per year and has been audited according to World Vision.
El Halabi, a father of five from Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, has worked with the charity for more than a decade. His family has echoed World Vision’s statements by insisting that he is innocent of the claims made against him.
“My son has spared no effort to help people in need,” said Khalil El Halabi, Mohammad’s father. “He has displayed great compassion towards people who have suffered more than he has. The charges against him do not make sense. The organization [World Vision] has tight rules. Mohammad should be released at once.”
Isra Saleh el-Namey is a journalist based in Gaza.