By Hamada Hattab and Osamah Radi
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.