We all agree: Gaza blockade strangles jobs and hopes
If William Hague, a Palestinian worker, the ILO and an IMF official agree on something, there’s a fair chance it might be right. All conclude that the Israeli blockade of Gaza is strangling the economy and jobs and must be lifted immediately.
Under Israeli restrictions only 72 of 4,000 commodities are allowed in, and only then, at a dismal trickle. The export trade is non-existent and concrete and raw materials are banned. The result: construction used to employ a quarter of the Gazan workforce, now it’s less than one percent. Without the means to repair bombed schools, hospitals and houses, Gaza looks like a permanent war zone.
The blockade is also unpredictable and illogical. Coriander is banned but cinnamon is allowed. And big blocks of butter are prohibited because they’ll need cutting up and that requires an “industrial process”. If the evil doers acquire the skills to slice up a large block of Lurpak, innocent Israelis might be next, so the illogic goes.
The impact of all this is predictable. The number of businesses in Gaza fell from 3,900 in June 2005 to just 200 by December 2008. Unemployment has soared to 39%. Although this figure is likely to be an underestimate, it’s still among the highest in the world.
This is the cause of immense suffering. After nearly a year of the blockade, over 70% of Gazans were living below the US$1 per day poverty line, and following the Israeli offensive on Gaza in January 2009, 75% were “food insecure”. Eight in 10 Gazans are now dependent on aid,
The blockade is also driving the very criminality it is purporting to prevent. As our new Foreign Secretary said:
As the once productive private sector has been decimated and ordinary Gazans have lost their jobs and their incomes, it is tunnel entrepreneurs and their Hamas backers who benefit.
The tunnel economy – there are some 400 to 600 tunnels into Gaza – is an important source of revenue for Hamas and for many desperate Gazans it’s the only source of work and essential goods. It’s also a recipe for appalling working conditions, according to the just published annual ILO report on the situation of workers in the occupied Arab territories:
…it is believed that up to 20,000 people are employed in the tunnels and associated economy, many in dangerous conditions, without protection and poorly paid. Child labour in the tunnels is said to be rife.
The very first recommendation in the latest IMF staff report is for the lifting of the blockade of Gaza, which is, “…essential to stem the continuing decline in Gazans’ living standards”. Under a “pessimistic” scenario, the IMF concludes that GDP will continue to decline in Gaza if there is no progress in the peace process and only a limited easing of restrictions.
Sadly, this IMF “pessimism” sounds like business as usual, unless real pressure is applied to end this medieval siege.