GAZA CITY, June 19 (JMCC) - Abdelhadi al-Razaina, father of eight, can no longer bear the demands for money from his wife and children. Since he was injured at work in Israel
18 years ago, he has been unable to hold down a job. Until recently, however, al-Razaina received disability benefits that helped him and his family get by.
But in January 2009, Israel stopped transferring benefits to Gaza
-based Palestinians who were injured at work in Israel.
Most of the time, I run away. I cannot stay at home for a minute, says al-Razaina, 42, a resident of Jabaliya refugee camp
in the occupied Gaza Strip.
He is one of an estimated 700 Palestinian workers from Gaza whose disability benefits were stopped by Israel 18 months ago.
The Israeli decision was made as part of an Israeli blockade
imposed on Gaza in June 2006, after a group of Palestinian armed men captured an Israeli soldier during clashes near the Gaza-Israeli border.
In September 2007 Israel declared Gaza a hostile entity, freezing financial and commercial activity between Gaza and Israel. After that, the only two Israeli banks with relationships with banks in Gaza, Bank Hapoalim and Bank Discount, stopped transferring disability payments.
‘I SEEM SO UGLY’
Al-Razaina’s problems began in August, 1992, when he was digging a new telephone network for the Israeli telecommunication company, Bezek.
Smelling gas and noticing that the sand around him was black, he told the Israeli engineer that there was a problem. No problem, continue your work, he was told. Suddenly, a gas pipe exploded and al-Razaina was trapped “in a pool of fire, under the ground.”
The worker was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Only after 100 days of intensive treatment was he able to resume his life – his features forever changed.
My face was deformed,” he says. “Now I am another person. I seem so ugly, and for this reason I can’t find a job in this besieged Gaza Strip.
Al-Razaina has eight children and is the primary caretaker for his elderly parents. His disability benefits were NIS 2,100 (approximately $550) a month – enough to manage life in Gaza.
My children miss new clothes and fruit,” he says. “They pretend the cup of tea is fruit. I hate special occasions like feasts, birthdays or even the new school year as they demand lots of things like new clothes or gifts.”
My social life has deteriorated. I do not visit friends or relatives any more, simply because I am broke.” Al-Razaina says his eldest daughter has dropped out of school and is learning to style and cut hair to help with the bills.
‘ILLEGAL AND UNJUST’
Mirvat al-Nahhal, a lawyer for al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, calls the Israeli decision “discrimination” against Gazans. “It is an illegal and unjust political attitude which should not affect those victims.”
She says that al-Mezan and several other human rights organizations have appealed to Israeli courts to reinstate the monthly allowance.
Al-Nahhal adds that these workers worked legally in Israel and paid for benefits such as health insurance and pension as well as taxes, therefore it is their right to receive disability once they were wounded.
In the 1980s, at least 80,000 Gazan laborers used to work in Israel. This number gradually reduced after the first Palestinian Intifada
in 1987. Today no Palestinians from Gaza are employed in Israel.
We urged Israeli officials to keep this humanitarian case far from political disputes, but we found no open ears, and therefore we launched a petition and moved the case to the court, Al-Nahhal says.
HOPE ON THE HORIZON?
The Palestinian Authority
has also applied pressure through the Palestinian Monetary Fund.
Fund official Riyadh Abu Shehadeh says that the semi-official body has been involved over the last year and a half in negotiations over resuming the disability payments.
He says that the Palestinian Authority and representatives of the Quartet have participated in the contacts with Israel.
The Israelis put several meaningless and illogic conditions,” says Abu Shehadeh, “but through high-level intervention from international parties we stood by our position and succeeded in coming to an agreement with the Israeli side in which they are supposed to resume transferring the benefits.”
According to Abu Shehadeh, the workers will receive their first resumed payment at the end of July.
Al-Razaina can’t wait. He says he will “pay back loans and buy fruit and clothes for my children.
They suffered a lot,” he goes on, sighing. “I will buy everything for them. I will also take them to the sea to have some fun. I miss seeing them happy.”