Hamada Hattab
December 16, 2011 - 1:00am

Gaza university student Mohamed Abu Suleiman had this week a tough argument over the change with a taxicab who took him from Tufah neighborhood in eastern Gaza city up to al-Azhar university in the west.

The driver insisted on giving Abu Suleiman a piece of biscuit instead of half an Israeli Shekel (about 0.13 U.S. dollars) because he did not have enough change, after the student paid him two Shekels (0.52 dollars).

"If I accepted the piece of biscuits instead of getting half Shekel, this means that a round-trip transportation would cost me four Shekels everyday instead of three Shekels," said Abu Suleiman, one of thousands of students in the Gaza Strip, who might suffer due to a severe lack of money change in the enclave.

Last week, the ministry of transportation of Islamic Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip decided to rise the transportation fee from one Shekel to 1.5 Shekels -- a set price for each passenger going from one neighborhood in Gaza city to another. However, amid a lack of money change, taxi drivers keep a box of biscuits and give a piece of it instead of the change.

Sources inside Hamas rule revealed that the government has studied a plan to resolve the crisis of change in the Gaza Strip by making new plastic coins to replace the small change. It will be the first time ever that such kind of local plastic money is issued instead of the Israeli currency.

In general, the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip do not have their own currency. They use the Israeli Shekel for their daily living, while use other currencies, like the U.S. dollar and the Jordanian dinar for buying cars, housing and properties of lands as well as paying dowries for marriage.

The lack of the yellow coin, or the half Shekel, in the Gaza Strip was due to the rise of the transportation fee of an extra half Shekel. While the shortage of the Shekel currency is back to when Israel imposed a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip after Hamas, the Islamic movement, seized control of the coastal enclave by force in June 2007, where Israeli banks refrained from transferring Israeli Shekels to Gaza.

The Israeli currency has six different kinds of coins, starting from the Agorah, which is not used in the Gaza Strip at all because it is useless, then a coin of half Shekel that is badly needed for transportation in Gaza, a coin of one Shekel, and of five and ten respectively.

Another major reason for the shortage of the half Shekel coin is that, before the transportation ministry decided to rise the fees in Gaza, the cobber coins were collected and melted for making electricity wires, forcing Taxi drivers to use biscuits, chewing gums and other staff that worth half Shekel.

Hamza al-Masri, a 20-year-old student from Gaza, who studies business administration at the Islamic University, said that the crisis of the lack of half Shekel is the story of all students. Some students even think of starting a strike until the government annuls the decision.

"I don't think that the idea of making plastic coins would resolve the problem," said a worker who identified himself as al- Khudari.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud al-Jojo, a Gaza-based taxi driver said that resolving the crisis of transportation can only be done by lowering the prices of fuels, adding that "the drivers are obliged to give students as a piece of biscuit or a chewing gum instead of the half Shekel.

"Hamas government is responsible for this crisis because the prices of fuels went up," said another driver whose first name is Mohamed.

"I doubt that the idea of making plastic money would resolve the crisis. This would enrich Hamas government's budget," Mohamed said.

Hassan Okasha, director of the Hamas-run ministry of transportation, told Xinhua that the decision of the ministry to rise the fees of transportation to an additional half Shekel for university students does not including all the Gaza Strip and only three neighborhoods in Gaza city.

"The idea is to overcome the overcrowding in front of the universities in Gaza city, where around 30,000 students come to the universities in the morning and leave in the afternoon," said Okasha, adding "increasing the fees would encourage the drivers to take the students back home."

Meanwhile, Omer Sha'ban, a Gaza-based economist, told Xinhua that having such a kind of a solution (plastic change) "can never be creative, and would certainly obstruct the economical movement in the poor enclave of the Gaza Strip."

"Making plastic coins will be completely against the laws," he said.


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