Jenin residents worry international reconstruction aid may be misappropriated by PA

Assessed damage is $15 million, but pledges are already above $45 million; afraid Ramallah will pocket the leftover money, some Palestinians call for transparency mechanism

Palestinians walk on a damaged road in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, July 5, 2023, after the Israeli army withdrew its forces from the terror stronghold. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinians walk on a damaged road in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, July 5, 2023, after the Israeli army withdrew its forces from the terror stronghold. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Following Israel’s anti-terror operation last week in Jenin, residents of the West Bank city have taken to social media to express their worries that international donations toward its reconstruction will not reach the local population and will instead be pocketed by Palestinian Authority (PA) officials.

Millions of dollars have already been pledged by Arab countries to rebuild roads and buildings damaged in the operation. The UAE pledged $15 million, Algeria $30 million, and more donations are expected to come from Qatar and other countries, while funds have also been collected from Palestinian individuals.

A ministerial committee formed by the PA to assess the damage announced on Thursday that around $15.5 million would be needed for the reconstruction. Most of the damage caused in the 48-hour military operation is concentrated in the Jenin refugee camp.

The large volume of donations prompted some local residents to wonder about how the Palestinian Authority will spend it. Some have expressed concerns that the money will meet the fate of “many projects that the Palestinian Authority has promoted over the decades and have remained a dead letter,” according to the Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency, whose website is banned in the PA-controlled West Bank.

Young activist Mona al-Rimawi, 21, a resident of the Jenin refugee camp, suggested that the PA may use the money left over after the reconstruction for its own purposes.

On Sunday, al-Rimawi wrote on Twitter: “The cost for the reconstruction of the Jenin camp is 15 million dollars. Forty-five million have already been handed to the Palestinian Authority from the UAE and Algeria, without counting private citizens’ donations and the Qatari grant.”

Palestinians inspect a damaged house in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, July 5, 2023, after the Israeli army withdrew its forces from the terror stronghold. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

“As a citizen from Jenin, I have a right to know how that money will be spent, and if the government will use what is left over after the reconstruction to pay salaries for its employees — what is the plan?” she wrote.

In a later tweet on the same day, al-Rimawi criticized the recent announcement by PA Interior Minister Ziad Hab al-Reeh to grant a NIS 400 ($110) pay increase to the Palestinian security services, while 20,000 Palestinian teachers only got a NIS 60 ($16) wage hike after going on strike for weeks this year.

Palestinian political activist Omar Assaf told Shehab that “the PA’s reputation is not immaculate when it comes to spending public money, everyone knows this.”

The activist called for the establishment of a “transparency committee”  including residents from the refugee camp to oversee the aid spending and avoid corruption. He told the news outlet: “The people of Jenin have the right to be part of a committee that supervises the disbursement of aid, because they are the ones who have been subjected to destruction.”

The Jenin camp has been the site of several large-scale raids by the Israeli military this year, but last week’s was the biggest such operation in the West Bank since the Second Intifada of the early 2000s.

The camp’s infrastructure was severely damaged during the raid, which Israel said was targeting terrorists who have repeatedly launched attacks throughout the West Bank in recent months.

Palestinian armed militants fire at Israeli armored vehicles in the West Bank city of Jenin on July 3, 2023. (Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP)

Eight kilometers (five miles) of water pipes and three kilometers (two miles) of sewage pipes were destroyed, the UN said. More than 100 houses were damaged and a number of schools were also lightly damaged.

The refugee camp is one of the poorest and most densely populated in the West Bank, with some 18,000 people living in just 0.43 square kilometers (0.16 square miles). The camp was targeted by the IDF to stop it from being a “city of refuge” for Palestinian terrorists, due to the heavy presence of armed groups such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad among its residents.

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