Hardships increase in isolated Gaza

According to the United Nations, an average of 74 truckloads of goods a day entered Gaza in October, down from 253 truckloads a day in April. The consequences have meant a shrinking economy coupled with a severe increase in prices even for basic foodstuffs like flour, cooking oil and chicken.The average income of nonrefugees in Gaza has dropped 22 percent since June and 70 percent of them are now existing on less than $1.20 a day, compared with 55 percent in June, according to the World Food Program.Since June, wheat prices have increased 40 percent, bread prices 20 percent and rice 15 percent. But because of the inability to export, the prices of vegetables have fallen 30 percent or more, further undermining the agricultural sector.

This is not to suggest the state of Israel is inherently at fault (full disclosure: I used to ‘be’ a part of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign – I lost interest after little of the plight of women made general discussions. I’m in favour of everyone going back to the 1967 Green Line – including returning Palestinian land and water to them. If anyone thinks the security ‘fence’ has any other purpose, they’re crazy). Hamas is a hostile presence. Perhaps legitimately, perhaps not. This is like saying the drug dealers/runners in urban slums have a legitimate complaint against the government – but they’re still working against the progress of their community, in the long run.

Ghassan Matar, 25, is a Fulbright scholar who has had to delay his studies in business information systems at Central Michigan University. “No such field of studies exists in Gaza,” he said. “My dream is to focus on outsourcing in software, so I can invest in Gaza’s human resources. Such a field can flourish even if the crossings are closed.”

But Matar, who was supposed to start school Aug. 27, is stuck in Gaza. The university, he said, has agreed to let him begin in January. “I’m afraid to lose this chance,” he said. “I’ve worked two years to get this scholarship.” He describes himself as apolitical. “I blame all the parties,” he said.

The issue of the students has embarrassed the Israeli government, which is facing lawsuits and bad publicity for denying ordinary Gazans the chance to study in the West.

His attitude is about correct. Water, land, religion – nothing can make people this irrational, for this long (to my mind, born and raised white in Australia – what would I know? I never even went hungry until I was a student, living on my own).

With closed borders, there is an interesting quirk to this inflation: there are no external markets for domestically-produced Palestinian goods, depreciating their prices; there are no domestically-produced substitutes for goods imported from/via Israel, inflating their prices considerably. Meanwhile, it seems Hamas isn’t so populist, after all:

… the problems of the students can seem minor compared to other restrictions. Marwan Sawafiri, 40, who runs the Sawafiri for Chicken shop in Gaza, said the price of chicken has risen about 40 percent since the end of Ramadan in mid-October, when Israel stopped allowing special shipments for the holiday.

Gazans raise chickens, he said. But the chickens are hatched from fertilized eggs imported from Israel and fed with Israeli chicken feed. “Now we get many fewer imports, so the prices go up,” he said.

Coca-Cola and packaged fruit juice have disappeared from shops, and a printer cartridge costs $60. Even the price of flour, considered a necessity by Israel, has gone up 40 percent, said Muhammad Hassouna, 30, who runs his family’s grocery.

Hamad Dahdar, 25, the chief butcher at a nearly empty meat shop, has been told that he can work only 20 days a month, to save other jobs. His income has gone down by a third, to $200 a month, “and you can see, we’re just standing around,” he said.

Stewing beef has gone up a third in price, “and people who once bought a kilo buy only a half,” he said. Beef and lamb are also imported through Israel and quantities are down. But taxes are not. The Hamas administration in Gaza, cut off by the Fatah-appointed government in Ramallah, is taxing imports, from cigarettes to beef. “Now we have two governments,” Dahdar said. “And both of them want to collect taxes.”

I would say that the problems of the students is, long-term, one of the greatest. Without advances in human capital, Palestine isn’t going anywhere. That said, yes – there needs to be a Palestine and Palestinians around, when they graduate. These days, it’s hard to see.

At issue is Government (big-G). Israel is not meeting its international obligations as a military occupier: the wall, the water, the Green Line, etc. This is their crime. However, even back through Arafat, our crime, as that “international”, has been to pretend that the Palestinian Authority had any sort of capability when it came to civil administration. I honestly believe Palestine will not improve in any real sense until a Kosovo-like solution is imposed.

Frankly, I wouldn’t even mind if the Israeli government moved in (I’d prefer peacekeepers and, again, whether or not I mind is hardly the point. I don’t pretend it should be), as long as they did it properly and according to civic obligations of any modern government to the people who either elected it or fell before it. Neither Hamas nor Fatah have ever met that obligation, either, and don’t look like doing so anytime soon.

Looking at Palestine as an economy, which (a) we should, but (b) I will, being an economist, the problem is textbook, in terms of the first principles for long-run economic growth: establishing stable civil administration (not, necessarily, government), establishing the rule of law and protection of private property (getting back to land, water and the wall), investing in human capital (health and education) and social capital (water, electricity, community) – none of these are being undertaken, but no economy moves without them.

If Fatah or Hamas cannot or will not do it, Israel should. If Israel cannot or will not, the rest of us should. Palestinian (and Israeli! Please do not think I’m incognisant of the two ways of this horrible street) people are just people: they want peace. They want their families, they want jobs and schools and for their children to do better in life than they did. They want no taxation without representation. I’m sure they’d prefer to be governed by their own people, but they probably want all those other things first, and they want them at least as much as we wanted them, back when we got them (more easily, I might add – we never had a sea of AK-47s making things hot).

The same goes for many other countries, all over the globe, and that’s the problem. We could do it, easily (although our performance as military occupiers might make one, rightly, hesitate). We’d just have to, probably, and certainly in the near-term, make do with less ourselves. And, then, what would our media and politicians make their money off?


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