Palestinians face worsening hardships

Due to lack of gasoline many use bicycles and consider purchsing mules.

pal, bike riding 298  (photo credit: AP)
pal, bike riding 298
(photo credit: AP)
Many residents of this city have begun using bicycles to get around, while others said they were seriously considering purchasing mules because they could no longer afford public transportation. "What's wrong with bicycles?" asked Omar Abdel Haq, a 34-year-old father of three who works for one of the Palestinian Authority's ministries. He is one of some 145,000 civil servants who have not been paid for two months because of international sanctions imposed on the PA since Hamas won January's parliamentary election. On Wednesday, Abdel Haq and two colleagues each borrowed NIS 200 from a money-changer and headed straight to a local shop to buy bicycles. "Ramallah is a small city and we really don't need to use our cars," he told The Jerusalem Post. "Besides, it's healthier to ride a bicycle, and the children are even enjoying it. The only problem is that my wife is too shy to ride a bicycle and she prefers to walk." Many gas stations in West Bank cities have shut down because of a severe fuel shortage. As a result, many drivers have been forced to leave their cars at home or at their work places. Dor Energy, the Israeli company that is the sole fuel provider to the Palestinians, cited growing debts for its decision to cut off deliveries on Wednesday, Palestinian officials said. Mujahed Salameh, head of the PA Petroleum Authority, said Israeli suppliers had cut off deliveries because the authority was unable to pay for the fuel. "The government does not maintain fuel reserves," he said. According to Salameh, the supply of gasoline and cooking gas will run out within 24 hours. The fuel shortage has led to the emergence of a black market, with some dealers selling 96 octane gasoline at double the normal price. Some stations that still had fuel were refusing to sell more than 30 liters per driver. "The situation is very bad," said taxi driver Jawdat Omar. "The Americans and the Israelis want to turn the Palestinians into beggars. They want us to starve to death because we voted for Hamas. This will lead to an explosion." Officials from the Ramallah Municipality warned of a pending "catastrophe" because of the fuel shortage, pointing out that motorists were not the only ones paying the price. "Other industrial sectors in the city are also suffering," said one official. "Some bakeries will soon have to close down and people will be left with no bread." Abdel Haq, who swears that he didn't vote for Hamas, said the international community's decision to suspend financial aid was only strengthening Hamas. "I've always been a Fatah supporter," he said. "But now I have a lot of sympathy for Hamas, because it was elected in a free and democratic election. Many Palestinians don't like the fact that the Americans and the Europeans are trying to bring down the Hamas government." Even people who can still afford to pay about NIS 6 per liter for gasoline have been complaining it has been becoming increasingly difficult to find fuel during the last few days. Elsewhere in the West Bank, residents reported a severe shortage of cooking gas and some said they were using wood to prepare food. "It's very difficult to find gas canisters these days," said Ahmed al-Arouri, who lives in a village near Ramallah. "Many of our neighbors are collecting wood for cooking. We've gone back to the days when our grandfathers used to use wood for cooking." In Nablus, hundreds of teachers demonstrated against the failure of the Hamas-controlled PA cabinet to pay their salaries. "We're fed up with promises," said Kamel Issa, a representative of the teachers. "We're not against the government, but there are about 4,000 teachers in the Nablus area who are demanding their money. The government should find an immediate solution or else we will escalate our protest." A school principal told the Post that many of her teachers had stopped showing up for work because they could not afford public transportation. "They hardly have anything to eat," she said. "They feel so bad that they are ashamed to face their students; they feel humiliated." Meanwhile, dozens of women marched through Ramallah to show support for the PA cabinet, accusing the US and Israel of "extortion." Salam Ghazal, one of the march leaders, shouted: "Where is the democracy that the US and Israel are talking about? Where are human rights when they are denying the children of Nablus their milk? Where is the conscience of the international community as the Palestinians face starvation?" According to a public opinion poll released Wednesday, more than 33 percent of Palestinians are thinking of leaving the country because of the economic crisis. The survey, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, covered 680 people living in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, and had a margin of error of 3.76% Some 61% said they did not believe the Hamas government would be able to provide jobs for the tens of thousands of unemployed Palestinians.