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21 JUL 2024

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  • Uri Pilichowski

The Corruption-Fueled Wealth Gap in Gaza and the West Bank

Do Israelis really live in comfort and wealth as their Palestinian neighbors live in abject poverty?

depiction of wealth and poverty gap in gaza

According to the United Nations, as the war in Gaza continues the poverty rate in Palestinian-controlled areas will continue to rise. The United Nations estimates the poverty rate among Palestinians rising by more than 34% and putting more than half a million people into poverty. The assumption is that gross domestic product has plummeted by 8.4%, a loss of $1.7 billion, and over 390,000 jobs have been lost due to the war. 

These numbers would normally be alarming and warn of dangerous poverty rates if not for the Palestinian claim that Palestinians living in Gaza and the West Bank have been living in poverty for decades. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, an official institution of the Palestinian Authority, the overall poverty rate among Palestinians was between 24 and 51%. The narrative of Palestinian poverty is decades old. 

New Facts Challenge the Old Assumption Around Widespread Poverty in Gaza

The contrast is stark: poor Gazan neighborhoods with shack-like homes, contrasted with images of Gazan sea-side resorts, first-class malls, and luxury shops. For decades, the world was told Gaza was an open-air prison. NGOs like Human Rights Watch have reported that due to Israel’s closure of Gaza and the restrictions it placed on the Palestinians of Gaza since 2007, there was no path to economic advancement for the Palestinians. Many of the same claims have been made about Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank. 

As Israel began its bombing of Gaza, and its soldiers began taking over large sections of Gazan neighborhoods, journalists had their first opportunity to freely report what they saw without Hamas intimidation and censorship. They reported about Gaza City’s upscale Rimal neighborhood, with its shopping malls, restaurants, residential buildings, and offices. Instead of another poor rundown neighborhood, the Gaza of wealth was revealed and documented. 

The Wealth Gap Among Palestinians Is Fueled by the Corruption of Palestinian Leadership

Gaza is one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid. From 2014-2020, U.N. agencies spent nearly $4.5 billion in Gaza, including $600 million in 2020 alone. More than 80% of that funding is channeled through, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees. Qatar has provided $1.3 billion in aid to Gaza since 2012 for construction, health services, and agriculture. That includes $360 million pledged in January for 2021 and another $500 million pledged for reconstruction after the Israel-Hamas war. Qatar’s aid also goes to needy families and to help pay Hamas government salaries. 

If billions of dollars have been deposited into Gaza over the past 10 years, why do so many reports of poverty come out of Gaza? 

The answer speaks to the corruption of Palestinian leadership. Khaled Mashaal, the leader of Hamas, is estimated to be worth over five billion dollars. Dr. Musa Abu Marzook, the number two man in Hamas, is reportedly worth two to three billion dollars. Hamas “Prime Minister” Ismail Haniyeh is also reported to be a billionaire. These men have been siphoning off foreign aid and charity meant for the people of Gaza to fund their own bank accounts and investments. 

The Palestinian Authorty’s Corruption Keeps Palestinians Poor

As Israel fights its war against Hamas, President Biden and his administration are looking to “the day after” the fighting ends. In an op-ed he penned in November 2023, President Biden wrote, “As we strive for peace, Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited under a single governance structure, ultimately under a revitalized Palestinian Authority, as we all work toward a two-state solution.” President Biden and his administration frequently mention a revamped and revitalized Palestinian Authority because they are well aware of the corruption within the Palestinian Authority leadership. 

Today, 87 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza believe that the Palestinian Authority is corrupt, 78 percent want Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to resign, and 62 percent believe that the Palestinian Authority is a liability to the Palestinian people. While Hamas’s leadership’s corruption was cited above, President Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t acted much differently. Abbas is reportedly worth over $100 million, even though he has never owned a business or invested well. Abbas, too, has seemingly stolen foreign aid meant for his people. 

The Palestinian people do not have to be poor, nor are Israel’s security policies the cause of Palestinian poverty. That there are wealthy Palestinians proves that wealth can be generated in Gaza and the West Bank. Financial corruption within the Palestinian leadership, both in the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, is the top impediment to Palestinian success and breaking out of the cycle of poverty. 



Human Rights Watch, “Gaza: Israel’s ‘Open-Air Prison’ at 15” June 14, 2022

Globes, Meet the Hamas billionaires, July 24, 2014

The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, How the Palestinian Authority Failed Its People, October 19, 2023


 Uri Pilichowski

Uri Pilichowski

Uri Pilichowski is an author, speaker, and senior educator at institutions around the world.


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