New Hamas import tax leaves Gaza merchants fuming
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New Hamas import tax leaves Gaza merchants fuming

Islamic movement says funds will be used to pay some 40,000 civil servants who haven't received regular salaries in over a year

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

A Palestinian policeman loyal to Hamas stands guard as trucks transporting construction materials enter the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing on September 22, 2013. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A Palestinian policeman loyal to Hamas stands guard as trucks transporting construction materials enter the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing on September 22, 2013. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

A new import tax imposed by Hamas on commodities entering the Gaza Strip has left local merchants fuming, with some threatening to stop importing food products into the Hamas-controlled Strip altogether.

On Saturday, members of Hamas’s parliamentary bloc Change and Reform approved the National Solidarity Tax law, imposing a new levy on “non-basic” commodities such as meat, fruits and vegetables, clothing, and electronics. Flour and medicine will be exempt from the new tax, Hamas parliament member Ahmad Abu Halbiya told Turkey’s Anadolu news agency.

“The purpose of the law is to ease the suffering of the poor in the Gaza Strip,” Abu Halbiya said, explaining that the percentage of the tax will be raised gradually, eventually reaching 10% in some cases. “Residents will not feel it,” he asserted.

The United Nations declared a humanitarian emergency in Gaza last July, reporting over 100,000 displaced residents in January. Gisha, an Israeli NGO dealing primarily with the humanitarian situation in Gaza, said last month that over 70% of Gaza residents are in need of humanitarian assistance, with 57% of residents having suffered nutrition insecurity on the eve of Operation Protective Edge last summer.

Israel, for its part, has dramatically increased the number of trucks allowed to enter Gaza with foodstuffs, reporting a projected threefold increase in 2015 compared to 2014. Some 3,000 Gaza merchants currently receive permits to enter Israel for trade.

Hamas MP Jamal Nassar speaks to Gaza merchants, April 19, 2015 (photo credit: YouTube image)
Hamas Parliamentarian Jamal Nassar speaks to Gaza merchants, April 19, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)

On Sunday, local businessmen expressed fury over the new government move, at a meeting with Hamas parliament members organized by the Gaza Chamber of Commerce. According to Palestinian daily al-Quds, many claimed the money collected was earmarked for Hamas civil servants, unpaid for months, rather than the Strip’s poor.

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

“The civil servants of Gaza haven’t received regular salaries in over a year,” he said. “The Strip cannot function without civil servants, who are the pillar of every state. Therefore, they will get the largest share of the revenue in an attempt to improve their monthly income. Hence, instead of receiving 30% of their salary, they will receive 50-60%. Those earning NIS 1,000 ($253) will receive their entire salary.”

A Palestinian woman at the Rafah Border Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt in May (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
A Palestinian woman at the Rafah Border Crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Yet the Gaza merchants remained unconvinced.

“These cost three and a half shekels,” said one merchant in a video report by al-Quds, holding up a pair of slippers he imports. “You want to tax it two shekels? That makes no sense. Make it one or two agorot!”

Another merchant told Watania Media Agency that he will not be able to import fruits and vegetables if the government decision goes forward. “Let them find us a solution and end this story,” he said.

But as emotions overflowed in Gaza, Hamas parliamentarian Jamal Nassar said he couldn’t understand the merchants’ rage.

“The [price] increase falls on the consumer, not on you,” he told the audience. “So why this vicious attack?… None of you is affected; it’s the citizen who is. If I am bad to the citizen, let him not vote for me.”

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