Palestinian Taxi Driver Uses Bitcoin To Save Civilians In Gaza

Countless lives were changed on October 7th, 2023, and Yusef Mahmoud’s was no different. Even before the war, the Palestinian taxi driver couldn’t stand being a passive observer of unemployment and hunger, both prevalent in Gaza’s everyday life. In 2022 and early 2023, more than two million Gazans lacked access to clean water and an appropriate sewage system, while two-thirds of the population lived in poverty.

Against this backdrop, Yusef turned online for help. It was Ramadan of 2023 and he wondered if other Muslims across the globe would contribute with bitcoin, the first decentralized cryptocurrency, that he could use to buy and distribute food for those in need and toys for children in Gaza. UK-based Bitcoiner Fumble was amongst those who answered his call.

“I quickly saw that Yusef was genuinely transferring over the support he received to people on the ground,” Fumble recalls. “As Bitcoiners sent satoshis (bitcoin’s smaller monetary units) to Yusef, he returned pictures of the donations’ impact on elderly people and orphans around him. The more proof I saw of his work, the more I wanted to help, and that’s when I suggested Geyser as a means for Yusef to organize his initiative and scale up the project.”

In April 2023, Yusef launched a project on Geyser, a global Bitcoin crowdfunding platform, to raise more funds and provide food and potable water to Palestinian civilians in need.

https://x.com/Yusef_Mahmoud1/status/1794636953704698295

When the going got tougher, support followed

Within the following months, Yusef’s project took on new dimensions. The situation in Gaza was aggravated due to the military occupation, which displaced 85% of Gaza’s population and halted economic activities, further worsening poverty and unemployment. Demand for food and water escalated and Yusef switched focus from supporting families during Ramadan to providing everyday essentials for civilians in need.

Between April 2023 and May 2024, more than 1,500 people had donated to the cause. This has enabled Yusef to repeatedly buy food and potable water for 20,000 families in Gaza, each with an average of five to seven members. About 500 of the people he helps are orphans.

Fumble explains that having a Geyser project made it easier for people to support Yusef’s efforts. Today, Yusef relies on these donations to continually source tinned food, baby supplies, potable water, bags of flour, clothing, and access to medication for civilians. Donations have also been ensuring that Yusef has enough credit on his e-SIM card to stay connected and up-to-date on what the community needs, and so he can access the donations received through the project.

“More people over here are now using Bitcoin, there’s no other way.”

Within two months of the start of the war, unemployment in Gaza had surged to 79.3%. Locals lack sources of income and access to water, sanitation, healthcare, and education. Half of the local population are children. Meanwhile, even those who had savings in the bank found themselves unable to make transactions.

“During wars, you’re left with only the change you had in your wallet,” Yusef explains over a glitchy call, where Fumble is also present to help bridge our language gap. “Bank apps in our phones are down and banks are freezing accounts in Gaza. We only have cash or Bitcoin.”

Fumble explains that the Palestinian economy runs on the Israeli shekel and that Gaza’s financial system is almost completely dependent on Israel, which must approve the movement of cash into the area.”The occupation is why payment processors don’t facilitate it, and it is the reason why Israel has control over transactions that come to their banks,” says Fumble.

Because of this, many Palestinians relied on contacts from abroad to manage or access their funds, but tales abound of people who trusted someone to receive their money only to find that the person wouldn’t pass it over to its rightful owner. Those who do pass on the money often charge a steep fee upwards of 30%.

For people like Yusef, Bitcoin emerged stronger than ever as an alternative. Its peer-to-peer, permissionless nature enables him to bypass financial and platform barriers to get aid from abroad and help people on the ground. Additionally, fees to exchange bitcoin into fiat money are around 5%, making it cheaper and faster than the alternative. “You can see why more people over here are now using Bitcoin; there’s no other way,” Yusef shares.

Additionally, other crowdfunding platforms either don’t operate in Gaza or have blacklisted it, so you can’t use them to send or receive funds if you’re registered in Palestine. Geyser continues to enable people in this location to raise funds using bitcoin, with added precautions such as requiring users to ID themselves to ensure funds are not being used to support sanctioned individuals.

“Citizens have no fault in this war, that’s why I help them.”

To further complicate the economic situation in Gaza, many families are separated by enforced displacement as Palestinian men are detained at scale while their families are told to flee. “Fathers were the key breadwinners in Gaza, and many families are now left to fend for themselves. These are the people most often coming to my door asking for help,” says Yusef.

To help them, Yusef regularly drives to Rafah in search of supplies. The commute isn’t easy. Dislocation across Gaza makes Yusef more vulnerable to being targeted while thorough inspections by military forces restrict the goods coming into Rafah from Egypt. “Supplies are being deliberately restricted,” explains Fumble. “There’s no anesthetic, no insulin, medical respirators are punctured… Even a pair of medical scissors may be considered a weapon and used as an excuse to reject a batch of supplies. Not to mention trucks are deliberately being delayed so the food goes bad.” When asked about what motivates him to carry on, Yusef replies simply: “Citizens have no fault in this war, that’s why I help them.”

But there are also good days. In March 2024, Yusef managed to buy 2,700 chickens from Egypt to feed his community. The order qualified as ‘commercial capacity’, which simplified the bureaucracy across borders. These large-scale transactions are a source of hope for Yusef, but they’re only possible when substantial donations come in.

In April 2024, Yusef’s project received $48k worth of bitcoin. I ask Yusef whether he is proud or surprised by this achievement, to which he says: “My greatest achievement has been getting people, especially children, the help they need.” More recently, he built almost 100 tents to shelter displaced families.

Although his project consistently ranks amongst the most funded on Geyser, it sometimes struggles to keep up with the relentless needs and expenses Yusef has been trying to meet. For example, not only is food hard to come by but it also comes at a huge price inflation when available. On the week of our call, soon after Yusef raised $48k on Geyser, donations became scarce and he came close to selling his car so he’d have money to help people in desperate need of medical aid. “To help more people, we need the money to access large-scale supplies and rent cars or trucks to transport those goods to displaced communities,” he explains.

Using bitcoin to meet people’s immediate needs, one day at a time

Online, the work is carried out on X, where Fumble helps Yusef spread the word about the project so the trickle of donations doesn’t dry out. “Yusef sends me videos of the work being carried out on the ground, which helps to prove that the project is credible and genuine. The consistency with which he shares those videos helps to demonstrate transparency about his intentions. The challenge is sharing as much information as possible without compromising people’s safety,” Fumble explains.

“You have to be very mindful,” says Fumble. “We want to show as much as possible what’s happening and Yusef’s first-hand content is precious in that regard. The more transparency, the more likely people are to donate. But at the same time, we need to protect innocent civilians in Gaza, many of whom feel quite abandoned by the world.”

Alongside that sentiment, Palestinians stick to the long held mantra “steadfast.” When asked whether he has hopes that life will return to normal, Yusef doesn’t hesitate: “Yes, of course.”

Until then, Fumble thinks about how else he can help civilians in Gaza. On the cards is the possibility of manufacturing and supplying 3D-printed prosthetics for children who’ve lost limbs during this conflict. “When I share these ideas with Yusef, he just says ‘God willing’,” says Fumble, “because he doesn’t take anything for granted; he’s working hard to meet people’s immediate needs. The bitcoin donations have become that lifeline he’s holding on to get people through just one more day.”

Donate to Yusef’s Save Gaza project here

This is a guest post by Michele Morucci. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.

 

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