Showing posts with label state of gaza. Show all posts
Showing posts with label state of gaza. Show all posts

Saturday, 9 April 2016

The State of Gaza #3: Economy

The Gazan Economy is 'on the verge of collapse' according to a 2015 World Bank report. In today's article, we look at how this has become the case.

If you've read the previous two articles, where we explored the blockade and the state of welfare in Gaza, it probably won't come as a surprise to you that the Palestinian state's economy is in dire straits. 

With an economy forced to be closed by the blockade, 42% of the population aged under 14, and those many of those who are the age work suffering from health issues, neither the labour supply nor demand market in Gaza is functioning effectively. Gaza is facing not just a record youth unemployment rate, of 60% (Spain, the most commonly cited example of terrible youth unemployment peaked at around 55%), but the highest unemployment rate in the world, at 43%. Greece's unemployment rate of 24% pales in comparison- but, of course, being a larger population and part of Europe, it has received far more attention. 

In contrast to the rest of the world's economic troubles, Gaza has not been massively disturbed by the financial crisis of the past decade as Western countries have- due to its troubled history, financial institutions have played little role in the state economy. The Middle East as a whole, according to Nader Habibi of Brandeis University, was protected a great deal from the crisis due to its lack of integration into global financial markets, and it would be fair to say Gaza was among the least financially integrated in the Middle East. 

The economic struggles of the 1.8m residents of Gaza have instead been caused by, according to the World Bank, "repeated armed conflicts, the blockade and internal divide". 

The blockade, which has heavily restricted the inflow and outflow of goods from Gaza through its Israeli border (a policy supported also by the Egyptian border control), has crippled the state's ability to trade. The blockade has gone through multiple iterations since its first implementation in 2007, when almost all shipments of goods were banned from leaving Gaza. Some agricultural exports were allowed to head from Gaza to Europe, as part of a very specific trade deal with the Netherlands, but all other exports were wiped out. Since then, the Israeli government has very slightly reduced the blockade controls. Currently, they allow limited amounts of agricultural product, textile, furniture and scrap metal to be exported (mostly for sale in Israel), but nevertheless, the number of trucks exiting Gaza today carrying materials for trade is just 10.6% of the number that would leave before the blockade, pre-2007.

Trucks leaving Gaza since 2000. Source: UNOCHA 
The blockade remains devastating. The agricultural sector in Gaza has suffered hugely, in part due to falling demand also. Marketing Director of the Ministry of Agriculture, Tahseen al-Saqqa, told Al Monitor in an interview that "the Strip's agricultural export losses amounted to about $40m a year, since the beginning of the siege in 2006." This wouldn't be such a loss for most countries, but for a state with GDP of just around $3bn, this has been a bad blow to the economy.

Gazan farmers are even unable to export produce to their fellow countrymen in the West Bank. Strawberry exports, for example, were banned in 2015 after Palestinian strawberries were found being sold on the cheap in Israeli markets. 

The blockade has prevented Gazan fruits from reaching
the Palestinian West Bank.
As well as agriculture, industry has suffered hugely. According to the World Bank, the blockade has been responsible for the manufacturing sector shrinking by as much as 60% over the past 8 years. This has been not just because of the lack of materials available to manufacturers in the region, but furthermore due to Israeli attacks on the region. 

The costs of Israel's 2014 summer offensive hit an estimated 500 production facilities in Gaza, wiping an estimated $460m (15%) off the state GDP. This, of course, is on top of the infrastructural damage, and the massive number of human casualties and fatalities that reduced further the labour force.

These economic issues have been compounded by the state of welfare in Gaza.. The lack of education opportunities available to Gazans has limited the region's capacity for economic growth, and the lack of healthcare has meant that the labour force is (physically) weak. The repeated bombing of key infrastructure and housing by Israel has not helped the situation either. 

The answer to the humanitarian and economic problems being faced by today's Gazan people is therefore not just to lift the blockade. This will, of course, provide much needed economic and humanitarian support to people in the region. But more is needed. Action must be taken by the international community to cease Israel's state violence against the Palestinian people and their lands. Almost 60% of the built up regions in Gaza were struck by Israeli bombs and weaponry in the 2014 war, reversing a lot of the progress that was made by the Palestinians in revitalising their economy. These bombs have undoubtedly destroyed far more than anything they may have produced.

It'll take more than opening the blockade to prevent this- Israeli state violence against Gaza is what needs to be brought to an end. If not, it won't just be the Gazan economy which will collapse as the World Bank says, but the Gazan people as a whole.

Friday, 25 March 2016

The State of Gaza #2: Welfare

Few peoples of the modern day have been subjected to the type of oppression faced by the Gazan community. In this second part of our series 'The State of Gaza', we reveal the welfare troubles faced by the local community.

"The goal of this operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages."

Yes, this really is really is a genuine quote- one made not by some lone political voice, but 
by the actual (now former) Interior Minister of Israel himself, Eli Yishai (pictured), in 2012. Yishai was talking about the Operation 'Pillar of Defence', a military operation that, contrary to its name, saw Israel going on the attack. These 8 days of Israeli air strikes killed 174 Palestinians and injured 'hundreds more', according to the UN. It sounds pretty bad, but in reality, this is barely the starter to the main course of violence- with many, many more brutal operations killing thousands more Palestinian civilians.

Israel's  (now former)
 Interior Minister Eli Yishai,
who has expressed his wish
to "send Gaza back to the
Middle Ages".
Eli Yishai, emphasised that it is imperative that Israel should "destroy and damage infrastructure, public buildings and government buildings" (which would, and do, constitute international war crimes), in order to perform this wonderous act of time travel. 4 years on, it would be fair to say that he, and the Israeli government as a whole, has certainly kept to his promise. Accounts of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) bombing hospitals are far from rare. Operation Protective Edge in Summer 2014 didn't only kill 2,310 people, but it destroyed or damaged as many as 67 hospitals and health centres in Gaza, killed 32 medics and injured 102 more.

No wonder then, having to face such military action, that Gaza's healthcare system is not coping well. According to the World Bank, Europe has 5.4 beds per 1,000 people, and Israel has 3.3. Gaza has just 1.3, with 30 hospitals and clinics serving almost 2 million citizens.

One positive sign is that this January, the first new hospital in 10 years opened in Gaza, with two more expected to open by the end of the year. However, if the current situation is anything to go by, these will struggle like the current hospitals, primarily due to a desperate shortage of key medical resources caused by the lack of prosperity in Gaza. Following Operation Protective Edge, a World Health Organisation (WHO) report claimed that "nearly 50% of Gaza's medical equipment is outdated, and the average wait for spare parts is about 6 months"- something attributable not just to the blockade of goods entering Gaza, but the shortage of financial resources and wealth largely caused by it.

IDF operations have also severely disrupted emergency health services in Gaza. Between October and December 2015, the WHO reported that 146 paramedic personnel were injured by Israeli strikes, which also damaged 91 ambulances and 'significantly delayed' 91 others in emergency situations.

Such poor accessibility to healthcare matters when you have a people in such a bad condition as the Gazans. A UNWRA report estimated that Operation Protective Edge alone destroyed over 100,000 Palestinian homes, affecting 600,000 civilians- a third or so of the entire Gazan population. The result of the decades of Israeli bombing has been mass homelessness, and the blockade has prevented civilians from gaining access to basic building materials they need to rebuild their homes and lives.
Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have lost their homes
to IDF air strikes- but few have the access to resources
required to rebuild them.

As well as housing and shelter, food is a key matter. The conflict and lack of a fluid economy (which we'll discuss in #3) in Gaza has pushed people deeper into poverty, which according to the WHO has resulted in 57% of the population being exposed to food insecurity. Consequently, a massive dependency has grown of the Gazan people on foreign aid, particularly food aid.

There is a very dark side to the food situation in Gaza, as revealed in 2012 when Israel was forced to release secret documents that showed the government was rationing food to Palestinians, tactically at a level calculated to be just above starvation between 2007 and 2010. Israel argues that it was attempting to pressurise the elected Hamas government of Gaza, but many condemned this as an unnecessary form of collective punishment.

Let alone housing or food, even water in Gaza is at a severe premium*. UN estimates suggest that over 90% of the water in Gaza is not fit for human consumption, and the only freshwater source of water available to the region is downstream from Israel- who many believe have used this as a tactic of war. The lack of clean water has not only taken away from many the basic nutritional value of the liquid, but it has lowered drastically the hygiene and sanitation conditions, causing stomach infections and other illnesses to locals of all ages.

The UN estimates that by 2020, virtually no clean water will be
available to civilians of Gaza.
The welfare of the Gazan people is a crucial issue that is unacceptable in the modern day. We hear almost nothing about it in the media, unless there is a military operation being carried out- and even then, we hear very few details. To have a state where the majority of citizens are food insecure, where so many lack even basic access to clean water, where most of the medical equipment is outdated, is unacceptable- particularly when there is a state government behind all of these crises. Unlike many other impoverished regions in the world, Palestine and Gaza have the potential to thrive- they are simply being deprived of the tools they need to do so.

And no, this is not something whose main consequences are in the long run, affecting only distant future generations. The crisis is now; the Israeli government really is achieving its goal of sending Gaza "back to the Middle Ages". Action needs to be taken now to end the blockade, to allow the Gazans to rebuild, recover and redevelop their lives.

Perhaps the most disturbing comment in any report on the Gaza crisis comes from a 2012 UNWRA report, which concluded that without any urgent action, by 2020 "there will be virtually no reliable access to sources of safe drinking water, standards of healthcare and education will have continued to decline... to ensure that Gaza in 2020 will be a 'liveable place', on-going herculean efforts... need to be accelerated and intensified in the face of all difficulties."

Join us for next week's final instalment of The State of Gaza series when we analyse the Gazan economy. 

This RT report provides an interesting on the ground insight into the water issues being faced by Gazan civilians.

"We do injustice to Gaza if we glorify it, because being enchanted by it will take us to the edge of waiting and Gaza does not come to us. 
Gaza does not liberate us.
Gaza has no horses, airplanes, magic wands, or offices in capital cities... 
Gaza liberates itself from our attributes and liberates our language from its Gazas at the same time.
When we meet it - in a dream- perhaps it won't recognise us, because Gaza was born out of fire, while we were born out of waiting and crying over abandoned homes."
Mahmoud Darwish, extract from 'Silence for Gaza'.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The State of Gaza #1: An Introduction

Few peoples of the modern day have been subjected to the type of oppression faced by the Gazan community. In this three part series, we will take a look at the dire economic and social welfare conditions the people of Gaza are living under. 

Gaza, Palestine is one of the most troubled areas not just in the Middle East (which, today, really is saying something), but in the world. In the first part of our 'State of Gaza' series, we will be introducing some of the points of context key to understanding the economic and welfare situation in Gaza.

The Gaza Strip is part of Palestine, but it is separated geographically from the larger part of the nation, known as the West Bank. Now the West Bank has its own issues, but Gaza, being a region isolated from its mother country and surrounded instead by unfriendly Egyptian and Israeli neighbours, faces a number of unique problems.

If we're talking about context, it's key to understand that Gaza is small. Really small. If you heard that it had a landmass of 141 square miles (about the size of Bath and North East Somerset in the UK, or Detroit in the USA), you may not think it was too small. But, fill those 141 square miles with over 1.8 million people (1.2m of whom are refugees), and you have the recipe for one of the most densely populated lands in the world. For comparison, Detroit has a population of less than 700,000, Bath and North East Somerset 182,000.

Israeli government policy has played, and continues to play, a key role in making Gaza even more cramped. For example, in 2014, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu established a 'buffer zone of 3km from Gaza's border- effectively outlawing 44% of Gaza's habitable land, and forcing 250,000 Palestinians to move inland or face intense bombing that has sadly become all too familiar in the region.

What has been an even bigger barrier to any economic or social welfare progress has been the blockade enforced by Israel since 2007. Made in response to Hamas' election victory in 2006, the blockade prevents key materials and aid needed for development from  Gaza, whether from land, air or sea. Israel has been desperate to prevent Gazans from benefiting from any sort of supplies- even going as far as to infamously intercept and board a Turkish aid ship en route to Gaza, killing 9 aid workers and detaining 600.

The severe blockade has been repeatedly condemned by various global authorities, including the United Nations and the World Bank, but little tangible action has been taken to actually push for the policy to be withdrawn.

Israel's oppression of Gaza has gone further than restricting resources from entering, however, to actually destroying the place. The buffer zones mentioned earlier are far from the only areas feeling the force of Israeli weaponry. Periods of concentrated violence have become far too common, such as in 2014 when a 50 day assault by Israel's air force on Gaza killed 2,100 Palestinians.

Noam Chomsky, an outspoken critic of Israeli's policies regarding Palestine, claims such violence is cyclical in nature, part of what Israel itself has called "mowing the lawn": "The regular pattern is for Israel, to disregard whatever agreement is in place, while Hamas observes it," he states in a 2014 article for "Until a sharp increase in Israeli violence elicits a Hamas response, followed by even fiercer brutality."
Israeli air strikes have caused huge devastation in Gaza.

Considering the tiny, packed nature of Gaza, and it is inevitable to anyone, let alone the Israeli military, that civilian deaths are inevitable in the case of air strikes. No matter how 'targeted' you claim your strikes can be, in such a densely populated area, it's almost impossible to avoid any civilian casualties. Yet the aerial onslaught has continued and is ongoing. Israel has even bombed UN relief areas, such as schools and hospitals- but again, while this has been vocally condemned by world powers, little has been done to resolve the issue itself.

Of course the most significant damage of this bombing has been the loss of life- but it has also disrupted the limited educations of the youth of Gaza, the healthcare system, and the economy as a whole, as we will go on to see.

The blockade, the bombing, and the sheer population density of Gaza's landmass has earned the region the tragic reputation of being known to many as "the world's largest open air prison". As a result, looking at the everyday lives and welfare of the Gazan people makes for interesting, though depressing, as we shall find out over the next week.

Join us for next week's article, in which we will be discussing welfare in Gaza.