Hamas – Gaza’s ruling terrorist organization – has spent millions of dollars constructing luxurious mosques, enraging ordinary Gazans who are sliding deeper into poverty in the impoverished enclave sandwiched between Egypt and Israel.
Some of the mosques include the Imam al-Shefei Mosque in the Gazan al-Zeitoun neighborhood which cost $3.5 million and the Al-Hassayna Mosque in Gaza City which cost more than $2 million.
These expensive mosques are going up while a large number of Gazan homes were destroyed during Hamas wars with Israel remain rubble.
Mohammed al-Khalidi, a Gaza resident, articulated the growing resentment among ordinary Gazans against Hamas’ luxury mosques projects.
“The Ministry of Endowments claims that the donors funding the construction of the mosques want to spend this much money on them. But why would it [the ministry] not inform the donors that there are other fields in Gaza where the donations could be more useful?” asked al-Khalidi. “Mosques can be built at a reasonable cost and the remainder of the donations could be used to build hospitals, schools or residences, for example. A Muslim can pray anywhere that is pure and does not need expensive and lavish decorations.”
Al-Khalidi warned there will likely be protests against the expensive Khalil al-Wazir Mosque, expected to be completed later this year.
“The opening of the Khalil al-Wazir Mosque in the coming months will stir an uproar among Gazans due to the large number of mosques already present in Gaza, in the absence of development projects, hospitals and sewage networks. For example, in the Beit Lahiya area in northern Gaza, the Salim Abu Muslim Mosque was built at a cost of $1 million, while a nonregulated landfill in the area is endangering the health of the locals and the environment,” al-Khalidi said.
The late Israeli statesman Shimon Peres advocated for transforming Gaza into a thriving Middle Eastern version of Singapore, a tiny wealthy Asian state with a higher population density than in the Gaza Strip.
However, following Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas’ violent takeover in 2007, Gaza has been rapidly sinking into deeper poverty and mismanagement. In 2021, unemployment rates in Gaza reached 45% compared to approximately 17% in the West Bank. Poverty rates consequently rose to 59% compared to 43% half a decade ago.
Kanthan Shankar, the World Bank Country director for the West Bank and Gaza, expressed his concerns about the socioeconomic situation in Gaza.
“The dire living conditions and the high dependency on social assistance of the people of Gaza is of particular concern,” Shankar said.
In January 2022, the Egyptian government estimated that at least $500 million was needed for rebuilding Gaza’s infrastructure damaged during the last war between Hamas and Israel in May 2021.
“The Gaza Strip needs more than $500 million, and we wish we could have contributed more [for the reconstruction process]. I hope that the reconstruction process we promised will end as soon as possible for the sake of our brothers in the Gaza Strip,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said.
At the time, reportedly only 50 out of 1,650 Gazan buildings damaged in last year’s war had been repaired. However, the ruling Hamas-regime has refused to take responsibility and even blamed the international community for the slow reconstruction process in Gaza.
Mohammad Abu Samra, an expert on Islamic and Arab affairs, also criticized Hamas’ extravagant mosque projects amid soaring Gazan poverty rates.
“Lavishly decorated mosques are undesirable and unacceptable in light of the difficult economic and living conditions in Gaza, which has suffered many wars causing the destruction of thousands of homes, schools, institutions, associations, factories, mosques, infrastructure facilities and agricultural lands,” Abu Samra told the Al Monitor media outlet.
In March 2014, the Israeli-Arab town of Abu Ghosh inaugurated a $10 million mosque, largely financed by the government of Chechnya. The opulent house of worship is the second largest mosque in Israel, only smaller than the iconic al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem with its landmark gold dome.