Hamasthe terrorist group that governs the Gaza Stripdecreed a series of new taxes on imported clothing and office supplies just before the start of the new school year, which has provoked limited and unusual protests in the impoverished coastal territory.
The measure of the insurgent group occurs at a time when the 2.3 million Gazans suffer not only the consequences of a 15-year Egyptian-Israeli blockade, but also a new rise in prices caused by problems in the global supply chain and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“This is a wrong and oppressive decision that destroys the national economy”said Nahed al-Sawada, who imports clothes from China and Turkey.
A list from the Economy Ministry indicates the new taxes for items such as packaged walnuts, which will have an import duty of 2,000 shekels (almost $600) per ton; in the past, they were exempt from taxes. The rate per ton on toilet paper went from 90 to 580 dollars. The new tariffs will take effect on August 1.
The list also includes a tax of about three dollars for each pair of jeans and $230 per ton of plastic file cabinets used to store papers. The demand for these items increases before the start of the school year.
Emad Abdelhadi, a representative of the Gaza garment merchants’ union, said that a new pair of jeans sells for between 3 and 10 dollars and that the new tax will mean a unfair charge for suffocated consumers.
In a territory plagued by rampant poverty and unemployment of close to 50%, he noted that many Gazans are already looking for used clothing. The new taxes, he added she, “they will deprive them of the possibility of buying”.
Gaza’s economy has been hit hard by the Israeli-Egyptian blockade, imposed when Hamas seized power in 2007. Israel maintains that it is a necessary measure to prevent Hamas from arming itself.
The Hamas government is not recognized internationally and Israel and its Western allies believe that the group, which opposes Israel’s existence and has in the past carried out deadly suicide attacks against the Israeli population, It is a terrorist organization.
Israel and Hamas have fought four wars since the group’s rise to power, undermining the territory’s dilapidated infrastructure. Electricity is scarce, running water is not drinkable and the health system is in chaos.
With tens of thousands of officials reporting to it, in addition to the huge spending of its military arm, it is not surprising that Hamas is looking for new sources of income.. However, the timing is questionable, as the Russian war in Ukraine has sent consumer prices skyrocketing around the world.
Hamas authorities say the new taxes are intended to protect local industry. But experts and businessmen question this argument since raw materials will also be affected by the rise.
Hamas does not publish data on its funding sources or budgets, but the latest measures are part of a series of taxes that affect a wide range of sectors, from street vendors selling hot drinks and restaurants, to building houses and cars.
The government offers few services in return, and most aid projects are financed by the international community. These funds help Hamas run a government and a powerful armed wing.
Protests against Hamas are few and often dissipated by force. But earlier this month, about two dozen members of the garment merchants’ union expressed their frustration in public. They stood in the building that houses their association in Gaza City and hoisted pairs of new jeans, with the tag still on, into the air for around half an hour.
Two days later, they gathered outside the offices of Hamas lawmakers. The police prevented the media from taking images and ordered the protest to cease after allowing some members of the collective to enter to speak with the legislators. The mobilization ended peacefully.
“Lawmakers acknowledged that taxes are high and said they will review them”, said Abdelhadi, the union representative. But he added that he did not expect a positive result: “With these decisions, they have passed a death sentence on the industry”.
(with information from AP)
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