- Title: Gaza ailing economy forces grooms into jail over debts they can't pay
- Date: 3rd February 2020
- Summary: AL-ZAHRA, GAZA (RECENT) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF FAMILY BEDROOM AL-ZAHRA FAMILY SITTING TOGETHER VARIOUS OF AL-ZAHRA DAUGHTER STANDING (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) FATHER OF TWO WHO IS INVOLVED IN DEBT TO MONEY-LENDING ASSOCIATION FOR GROOMS, EYAD AL-ZAHAR, SAYING: "When the police asked for me, I sold my wife's jewellery, my washing machine and I sold the boiler. The police would come and take me to jail and the association manager would say that he won't do anything about it until he gets his money, so the police would come and take me to jail." VARIOUS OF CHILDREN STANDING OUTSIDE AL-ZAHAR HOUSE FATHER OF AL-ZAHAR, KHADER AL-ZAHAR, TALKING (SOUNDBITE) (Arabic) FATHER OF AL-ZAHAR, KHADER AL-ZAHAR, SAYING: "They need to write on the door of the association "the bride is on you, and jail is on us."
- Embargoed: 17th February 2020 13:13
- Keywords: Gaza Israel Palestinians grooms loans marriage
- Location: GAZA CITY, AL-ZAHRA, RAFAH, GAZA
- City: GAZA CITY, AL-ZAHRA, RAFAH, GAZA
- Country: Palestinian Territories
- Topics: Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA003BZ25L53
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Bridegrooms in the Gaza Strip are finding marriage a path to debtors' prison rather than happiness.
Wedding celebrations cost around $10,000 in the Palestinian enclave, but a tradition of strong family ties and big gatherings often trumps financial common sense.
So with unemployment in Gaza topping 50%, many bridegrooms turn for help to money-lending associations that offer wedding loans ranging from $2,000 to $4,000.
Repayment, however, often becomes impossible. A spokesman for the Hamas-led Gaza police said that of 100,000 cases involving debt that were opened last year, 22 percent involved marriage loans.
Eyad al-Zahar said he has turned into "a regular visitor to prison" since taking such a loan. Now a father of two, Zahar, 24, used to install marble tiles. He's now unemployed.
"I sold my wife's jewellery, my washing machine and the boiler," he told Reuters, sitting on a chair in a room otherwise empty of furniture.
As he spoke, rain leaked through the metal ceiling and his family scurried to place plastic pots to catch the drops.
Zahar said he was taken to jail at least five times for failing to repay his loan. He spent 10 to 12 days behind bars each time, until someone bailed him out.
Salama Al-Ewadi, director of the Farha Society, which lends money to help facilitate marriages, said some 20 groups like his own have closed because of poor repayment rates.
He said clients are aware they could wind up in jail if they don't make their payments.
Amid crushing hardship in the territory, Ewadi said business has been falling off, even at marriage loan societies.
"We used to have 50 clients per month. In 2019 the number ranged between 15 and five," he said about his society. Currently, his office was pursuing legal action against 120 clients, and another 600 had fallen behind in their repayments.
Three wars between Israel and Gaza militants, tight Israeli restrictions along the Gaza border and divisions between the Islamist Hamas group, which has run Gaza since 2007, and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas have deepened the economic crisis.
In a bid to squeeze Hamas, Abbas had slashed salaries of tens of thousands of PA-hired workers in Gaza and suspended those of others. Hamas, considered a terror group by the West, has been unable to pay full salaries to its own 40,000 public employees for many years.
Local economists said nearly 1,000 small to large businesses shut their doors in 2018 and 2019.
Naeem Al-Siksik, CEO of one of the largest plumbing and infrastructure companies in Gaza and the West Bank, said the firm that once employed 400 people was now down to 146 and was struggling to stay in business.
"People are melting down, if things do not improve there will be an explosion here because people have nothing to lose," he said.
(Production: Nehad Khalil, Fadi Shana, Suheir Sheikh)
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