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U.S. frozen aid for Palestine leaves millions of families in Gaza without food

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Free porridge is distributed to the poor during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Gaza City. Growing despair in Gaza has helped drive recent Hamas-led protests against the border blockade by Israel and Egypt. (AP)
By Middle East Affairs 

A large number of Palestinian families are struggling to feed their families with U.S freezing funds to Palestine and a recent surge of violence over the last few months.

Life has become increasingly more difficult for millions of Palestinians in Gaza who have to live with daily electricity rations, 50 % unemployment, and a more powerful Hamas than before.

Samia Hassan, is one of those residents who has had to face tougher conditions than ever before, she said that in the past she had enough money to feed her dozens of kids and grandkids, but now she walks through markets looking for end of the day deals and will walk for many kilometers to receive free food from a soup kitchen. She has no other choice if she wants to provide food for her large family.

Hilary DuBose of the Catholic Relief Services says, “It’s a perfect storm,” with President Trump cutting funds and freezing the rest, her organization has had to end emergency food distributions because they have no money to do so.

She has observed the living conditions in Gaza, “At the same time that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is worsening, humanitarian aid is disappearing.”

After Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, the border was closed off by Israel and Egypt, this year’s protests at the border have been largely fueled by the deteriorating living conditions under Israeli occupation.

Egypt and Israel both say they need the blockade to keep their own borders safe but have not offered any other alternative for the people of Gaza.  The international community wants the blockade lifted, but has done little to better relations with Hamas who refuses to disarm or renounce violence.

Hassan lived in her unfinished cinderblock home with seven of her 12 adult children, three daughters-in-law and 16 grandchildren, she has joined the protests many times getting closer and closer to the border because she wants to get shot and killed by Israeli troops.

She said, “Death is better than this life”.

Her family looks in shock when she says this, but all agree on their harsh living conditions. Hasan said she stepped back from the fence when she realized that she would end up disabled, instead of dead making life even harder for her and her family.

Since the Great Return protests started in March, more than 122 Palestinians have been killed and 3800 have been injured, most with severe injuries that will leave them with a disability for the rest of their lives.

Clothed in a black robe and full-face veil of ultra-conservative Muslim women, Hassan says she is angry with Hamas, who have fought 3 wars with Israel in ten years. She said, “It’s because of them,” that life in Gaza is so harsh.

She said that in the last war, the taxi that the family owned for income was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on a neighbor’s house, they haven’t had the income since then to replace it. Without the taxi, her sons have been able to find work only sporadically since then, one of them a father of six is in jail for not paying his debts.

The family was hit even harder when Abbas ordered his government to end support to Gaza, which he hoped would force Hamas to give up its power in Gaza. They didn’t and families in Gaza continue to suffer with even less support than before.

The Palestinian Authority used to give Hassan’s family 500$ every three months, but the payments stopped in 2018, aid for tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza has been cut off said the Social Affairs Ministry official Khaled Barghouti.

Starting in March Abbas even lowered the salaries of 60,000 civil servants who he had been paying since 2007 to ensure loyalty.

The Hassan family has to rely on charity to get by without an active source of income. Many in Gaza face the same conditions.

During Ramadan, Hassan has walked five kilometers to another city in Gaza so she can receive wheat gruel. Her sons won’t join her because they are embarrassed to be seen, but she doesn’t mind standing in line waiting for the gruel because her face is veiled.

On one of her recent journeys, she said that people pushed and shoved to make sure that their containers got filled, but the large pot of gruel was empty after only 10 mins.

Walid Hattab cooks the charity meals for Ramadan, he has noticed that demand is much higher than last year, his fellow merchants, Hattab owns a small coffee-and-spice store, have stopped selling on credit. “The situation is difficult for everyone,” Hattab said.

The U.N. along with the Palestinian Authority have helped keep Gazans alive since the blockade. UNRWA, the agency that helps descendants of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war over Israel’s creation sees about 2/3rd of Gaza residents for education, health or welfare services.

Chris Gunness, a spokesperson for UNRWA said that need among Gazans has grown tremendously, two decades ago, 80,000 received food aid, now more than 1 million need their services and assistance.

Earlier this year President Trump slashed most of its budget for Palestina and then froze the rest of it until further notice, citing that the UNRWA had to reform its practices. The agency previously had a budget of $1.2 billion budget barely enough to carry out its services as it was, but President Trump cut $305 million from their budget for this year, with promises of more cuts in the future.

UNRWA has not taken the budget cuts sitting down, it has devoted many efforts to fundraising and has raised $200 million from private donors, but it’s still not enough. Gunness warned that funds for food distribution in Gaza could run out in a few months.

As of now all U.S. funds spent on Palestine is under review. This includes projects sponsored by USAID and the State Department, focusing on health, education, good governance and security cooperation programs.

There have been no signs from Washington as to when the reviews will be finished, if ever. The aid cuts have been in response to President Abbas boycotting the U.S. led peace deal and much stronger Palestinian presence in U.N affairs.

Catholic Relief Services like many other organizations offering aid in Gaza is funded by the U.S., in Gaza, its operations have been supported by a five-year, $50 million USAID grant. This year they were slotted to receive $10 million for their operations, but they haven’t seen received any of it.

The result has been 20,000 fewer families in Gaza receiving much-needed food vouchers, and another 2,200 people eligible for job creation programs to be left unemployed.

In the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, many many Muslims countries like Qatar, Iran, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have become more charitable. Qatar pledged 1 million meals for June and Iran 11,000 per day. It is not known if such efforts will be continued into July.

Samia Hassan and many of her family members sat around salad and gruel, just before iftar a nearby mosque had sent volunteers with rice and chicken. Samah, her daughter – in law said with a toddler in her lap, “It came at the right time,” referring to the rice and chicken.

Samia Hassan said, “Our situation has never been like this,” times are more difficult then years before for Palestinians living in Gaza.