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Debt lands hundreds in jail as Gaza economy tanks
March 09, 2018
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Gaza City: Sameh Al Madhoun’s eyes fill with tears as he recalls his fall from successful businessman to prisoner in a Hamas jail in Gaza.

Once the owner of a flourishing car dealership, he is one of more than 40,000 Gazans charged in the last year with failing to keep up debt payments as the economy in the Palestinian enclave collapses.

Madhoun, a 40-year-old father of four, has sold most of his possessions, including his house and some of his cars, in a bid to pay back the $3 million (2.4 million euro) debt that dragged his business into bankruptcy.

“I have paid off half of it until now. I don’t know how I will pay off the rest,” he told AFP from his jail cell.

“I don’t own anything else now except these debts.”

A decade-long Israeli blockade and a dispute between Gaza’s rulers and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authorities have brought the coastal territory’s economy to its knees.

Some 42,500 people were arrested in the past year for failing to pay debtors, according to Hamas police.

At least 600 are currently in jail on similar charges.

Madhoun has been detained since September, but is allowed to leave two days a week to see his young children and search for the money to pay back his debtors.

AFP met him both in prison, after being granted access by Hamas, and during one of his leave days at his former company — now just a few cars gathering dust.

“The market collapsed. Even though prices fell there were no customers,” Madhoun said.

“If it continues all the businesses in Gaza will fail.”

The economy of Gaza, a Palestinian enclave of two million people sandwiched between Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean, is “all but dead,” said Maher Tabba, an official at the territory’s Chamber of Commerce.

As Gazans’ buying power has collapsed, the amount of goods being imported into the Strip has more than halved in just seven months, according to border officials.

Tabba said some $112 million-worth of cheques bounced in 2017, up from $62 million in 2016.

That, he said, is “clear evidence of an economic collapse.”

Tabba estimates that several hundred of those currently in prison are owners of struggling or failed businesses.

Agence France-Presse

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