Why is Palestinian Authority punishing deaf children?

The Palestinian Authority — headed by Mahmoud Abbas — is preventing charities from providing vital services in Gaza. 

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Ahmad Abu Asad has been forced to drop out of school.

For the past three years, Ahmad, 9, had been taking lessons tailored for children with deafness.

The lessons were provided by al-Hanan School for the Deaf in the Deir al-Balah area of central Gaza. Faced with severe financial problems, the school has been left with no choice than to reduce its services.

“Ahmad misses his school and his friends very much,” said his mother Maram. “He used to spend five hours there every day with children who have the same condition as him.”

Maram is trying to find an alternative school for Ahmad, who has been deaf since birth. So far she has not had any luck.

The Deir al-Balah Rehabilitation Society had been arranging for Ahmad and more than 180 other children to attend school. The society has, however, not been able to function properly in recent times as its bank account has been closed on the order of the Palestinian Authority.

The PA, which is headquartered in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, has taken such action against a number of Gaza-based charities.

The closure of the bank accounts has widely been perceived as a form of collective punishment. It forms a pattern of behavior by the PA which has caused immense hardship for ordinary people by helping to tighten the siege Israel has imposed on Gaza for more than a decade.

“Long and deliberate” delays

The PA – led by Mahmoud Abbas – has previously asked Israel to reduce the supply of electricity to Gaza.

Public sector employees in Gaza have also seen their incomes fall dramatically at the behest of the PA.

And seriously ill children have been blocked from leaving Gaza for treatment that is unavailable in local hospitals as the PA has often been unwilling to undertake the paperwork needed to receive travel permits from Israel. Some of those children have died.

The PA has cited procedural reasons to try and justify closing the bank accounts of Gaza charities.

Abd Elnasser Sairafi, a representative of the PA’s interior ministry, said that a new operating license is required each time a charity appoints a new board. “We have nothing to add,” he said.

The Deir al-Balah Rehabilitation Society does not regard the PA’s explanation as convincing. The charity’s new board was elected in June and documents needed to obtain a license were submitted to the PA a few months ago.

“We are subjected to discrimination,” said Khaled Abu Shuaib, head of the Deir al-Balah charity. “We encounter delays when we deal with the authorities in the West Bank. The delays are long and deliberate.”

The issue highlights how people in Gaza have been made to suffer because of the ongoing dispute between the two largest Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas. Fatah dominates the PA, whereas Hamas administers Gaza’s internal affairs.

“Narrow political interests”

Abu Shuaib noted that his charity requires approval from the administrations in both Ramallah and Gaza. Although the PA has so far failed to process his application for a license, the Gaza administration issued one promptly.

“Our services are diverse and we try to provide a helping hand to the widest group that we can reach,” said Abu Shuaib.

“Hundreds of disabled people use our vocational training center. They come here to get basic training so they can look for a job and have a source of income. But this service is now under serious threat. We cannot cover the costs of our workshops.”

Fatima Abu al-Einain, 61, needs physiotherapy three times a week following a recent stroke. The Deir al-Balah charity contributes toward running the clinic where she receives treatment.

Accessing services is difficult. She sometimes needs to be helped upstairs by her son as the elevator is out of order.

Despite that hardship, Abu al-Einain describes the clinic as “really comfortable.”

“The nurses here are nice,” she said. “They are providing free medical care for people in dire circumstances. The politicians should be helping us get humanitarian aid, not hindering us.”

Among the other services offered by the Deir al-Balah charity are a speech clinic and a radio station. The radio station – featuring broadcasts by people with disabilities – has reduced its output because of the financial situation.

The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organizations Network has complained of how the PA is preventing Gaza’s charities from operating normally.

“Eighty percent of people in Gaza are dependent on humanitarian aid,” said Amjad Shawa, head of the network. “So the work of aid groups is central to helping people survive. This work must be facilitated, not hampered by narrow political interests.”

Isra Saleh el-Namey is a journalist from Gaza.