Family of Gaza massacre victim pressed to repay debt

Fadi Abu Salah (right), a victim of Israel’s 14 May massacre in Gaza, had borrowed to meet his family’s needs. 

Ashraf Amra APA images

Soon after Fadi Abu Salah was killed during the 14 May massacre in Gaza, his wife Amnah came under a certain degree of pressure.

Amnah was approached by the wife of a local businessman, who had lent Fadi around $6,000. Through his wife, the businessman sought repayment.

“Some people may think what I did was wrong,” said the businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “But I have become poor myself and I need to have my money back so that I can take care of my family’s needs.”

The man had run several small businesses, but they had declined sharply over the past few years. He had to close two of the projects that he ran as a result.

When a charity initiative was undertaken to help families of people killed recently by Israel, the businessman reduced the amount he was seeking from Amnah by $1,000. The remaining $5,000 was paid to him as a result of the charity initiative.

Fadi’s total debts to various lenders came to $28,000.

A decade earlier, Fadi (whose name has also been reported as Fadi Abu Salmi) had been badly injured when Israel bombed the Khan Younis area in southern Gaza. Both of his legs were amputated following that attack.

“Great agony”

Fadi, a father of five, was unemployed. His injuries and problems with his digestive system required him to take antibiotics and painkillers regularly.

The monthly allowance of $250 he received from the Palestinian Authority proved insufficient to pay for his medicines and support his family. He had no real option other than to borrow.

Amnah was in “great agony” at the time when the businessman sought his debt back, she said. “Thank God the debts were paid, so that Fadi can be comfortable in heaven,” she added.

The charity initiative was the work of three activists: Wael Abo Omer, Said al-Taweel and Khaled el-Hamss. They sent out pleas for funds on websites such as Facebook and Twitter.

The decision to raise funds was taken when the activists learned about the financial predicament facing the Abu Salah family.

A photograph of a notebook, in which some of Fadi’s debts had been written, was circulated on the Internet within days of his killing. Amnah had shown the notebook to a group of journalists, who visited her home in Khan Younis.

By 9 June, the activists had raised enough to pay back all of Fadi’s debts.

The trio has also identified debts incurred by other people killed during the Great March of Return.

Muhammad Kamal al-Najjar was killed on 30 March, the first day of those demonstrations demanding that Palestinian refugees be allowed home to towns and villages from which they were expelled by Zionist forces in 1948.

The 25-year-old left behind him a debt of $1,200. It has been repaid through the charity initiative of the three activists.

They also succeeded in repaying debts of $1,300 and $2,000 incurred by Ahmad al-Tatar and Ahmad al-Adini, both of whom were killed during the 14 May massacre.

Unemployment soars

Ahmad al-Tatar’s brother Muhammad said that the charity initiative eased his family’s burdens. With some of his siblings unemployed, the family’s income is low. “We only have enough for food,” Muhammad added.

Around 60 percent of all donations given in response to the initiative came from within Gaza; the remainder was largely from people in Muslim-majority countries who saw the appeals on the Internet. Most of the Palestinian donors were businesspeople.

Said al-Taweel, one of the activists behind the initiative, acknowledged that convincing Gaza’s business community to donate money can be difficult. Many business owners have seen their revenues fall because customers are facing increased hardship – particularly due to wage cuts imposed by the Palestinian Authority.

“We are fighting our campaign in a poor society,” al-Taweel said.

Appeals for funds are still being made as some debts incurred by people killed in the Great March of Return remain outstanding.

The activists behind the initiative had been involved in a similar campaign earlier this year, in which lenders were encouraged to cancel debts they were owed by Gaza’s poor.

According to some reports, more than 40,000 people were arrested in Gaza during 2017 for not repaying debts.

Gaza’s economic situation has worsened considerably since then.

The unemployment rate exceeded 49 percent during the first three months of 2018, according to data published by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. That was an eight percent rise on the unemployment level in the same period last year.

Three years ago, the World Bank found that Gaza had the world’s highest unemployment rate. At that time, the reported rate was lower – 43 percent – than it is now.

Many people killed in the Great March of Return had already been affected by the economic crisis; in some cases, they had incurred substantial debts. Though not dealing with the root causes of the crisis, charity initiatives have helped ease the enormous burden placed on the victims’ families.

Amjad Ayman Yaghi is a journalist based in Gaza.