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Cash shortage in Gaza: banks have been bombed and power cut to ATMs


For Palestinians in Gaza, it's not just food, water and electricity that are in short supply. Six months into this war, people are also desperately short of cash. Banks have been bombed, and power cuts shut down ATMs. NPR's Jennifer Ludden with Gaza producer Anas Baba reports on how this is making the daily struggle for food even more difficult.


JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Outside this branch of the Bank of Palestine, in one of Rafah's most packed residential neighborhoods, a tense crowd is gathered all day long.


LUDDEN: Beige metal barriers are pulled down across the front of the bank. It's closed, but to the left, the ATM is open.

ASEEL ABU JABER: (Speaking Arabic).

LUDDEN: "I came at 5 in the morning," says Aseel Abu Jaber. "I saw people who'd slept here overnight. Now," she says, "it's 4 in the afternoon, and I still haven't been able to get my money."

ABU JABER: (Speaking Arabic).

LUDDEN: "They lined us up like animals," she says. "They insult us and yell at us." She's talking about a man standing next to the ATM. He's wearing a black mask with only a slit for his eyes, and he's one of those controlling the crowd. Another woman complains they take bribes to let you move up in line, then, before you get there, say they've run out of money. At one point, Abu Jaber curses at the masked man, accusing him of always letting the men go first.

ABU JABER: (Speaking Arabic).

LUDDEN: Residents say the only other ATM in Rafah has been commandeered by a family of armed bandits. Mohammed Al Ferani has traveled to this bank for weeks from the nearby city of Khan Younis, where he says there's no working cash machine.

MOHAMMAD AL FERANI: (Speaking Arabic).

LUDDEN: "It costs me 18 shekels a day to come and try and get my salary," he says. That's just under $5 in Israeli currency. He's among a lucky few who still gets a paycheck but finds it impossible to cash. Unscrupulous money brokers have multiplied, meeting a need but also making the problem worse. They cut deals with the bank to get cash, then charge ever higher fees to provide it, from 2% to 8, 10, now 15% or more. Too high, says Al Ferani.

AL FERANI: (Speaking Arabic).

LUDDEN: "No cash means no food for my children," he says. "How are we supposed to survive?" Fighting cut off the flow of cash into Gaza, and the Palestine Monetary Authority says Israel has refused to transfer money from the West Bank to Rafah. The Israeli finance ministry did not respond to a request for comment, but Israeli government spokesman Avi Hyman suggests Hamas could help people.

AVI HYMAN: When the IDF has raided multiple Hamas outposts, we found millions, millions of shekels there and many, many dollars.

LUDDEN: The head of the Palestine Monetary Authority, Feras Milhem, has said a cease-fire would at least allow bank branches in Gaza to move cash where it's needed most. Meantime, he recently gave this warning to the money brokers charging high fees.


FERAS MILHEM: (Speaking Arabic).

LUDDEN: "We're tracking those who exploit people," he says, "and will shut down their bank accounts."


LUDDEN: We do find a money broker's office that's open, but the worker in it, who declines to give his name, says he's disgusted with his boss.


LUDDEN: "That transfer that's coming from your brother or cousin," he says, "he steals half of it. I believe someday this man will end up fleeing Gaza." With Anas Baba in Rafah, I'm Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.