On December 6th, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a newsletter highlighting the economic situation in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Though there are some miscalculations, for the most part the MFA’s data are accurate. The real problem is that the numbers appear without context.
In this week’s post we provide context for the MFA’s (mostly) correct numbers.
Israel’s policy in the Gaza Strip: Permit the entrance of humanitarian aid ONLY – no development, no prosperity, no economic activity.
Food: No luxury, no production
True: “All food products are brought into the Gaza Strip, except for those that definitely constitute luxury items”.
More true: Did you know that honey and canned fruit, which have been banned since the beginning of the closure, definitely constitute luxury items? Or that, for 8 months, tea definitely constituted a luxury item, until it was suddenly permitted into Gaza about two months ago, indicating that maybe it is not a luxury item after all? On the other hand, pasta is definitely not a luxury item anymore, since Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed concern about obstacles to the entrance of aid in February. Margarine in small packets is not a luxury item, but margarine in large buckets is definitely a luxury item, because it could then be used as a raw material for local food production, giving Palestinian residents of Gaza the luxury of engaging in productive work.
There are no published lists of what kinds of goods can and cannot enter, and Israel has refused to explain which products constitute a luxury, and which don’t. Without some kind of list – how are we to know?
Unemployment: Revealing all the numbers
True: Unemployment in Gaza dropped from 45.5% in the second quarter of 2008 to 36% in the second quarter of 2009.
More true: According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the reason for the second quarter drop in unemployment may have been that temporary relief projects, especially for clearing rubble after the military operation, were initiated by international organizations and the local government. The MFA neglects to mention that in the third quarter of 2009 unemployment again rose to 42.3%, as these temporary relief projects ended. Compare this with 32.3% unemployment in June 2007, just before the closure began.
Fuel and electricity: Not meeting needs
True: Israel meets the minimum threshold set by the Israeli High Court for the passage of industrial diesel for electricity production at the Gaza power plant.
More true: The minimum threshold for industrial diesel set by the court is far below what Gaza needs. In fact, the industrial diesel that was transferred in the month of November met just 39.1% percent of needs, creating power outages.
Re-building projects: A drop in the bucket
True: “Israel is conducting discussions with the Palestinian Authority, the US, EU representatives in the area and others, with the aim of establishing an agreed-upon supervisory mechanism, subject to international standards, which will ensure, if and when a decision is made to that effect, that monies, materials and equipment that are brought into the Gaza Strip for vita humanitarian projects actually reach their destinations”.
More true: Israel has refused to allow reconstruction materials to enter Gaza, despite “discussions” that have taken place over the past 11 months. Gaza needs at least 25,000 tons of iron and 40,000 tons of cement for reconstruction. Since the war, Israel has blocked all but 19 trucks of construction materials permitted to enter on an exceptional basis for the humanitarian infrastructure (i.e. water and sewage systems), though restrictions on other materials mean that infrastructure continues to function below capacity (see below). Without reconstruction materials it is impossible to rebuild the more than 3,500 homes destroyed and the approximately 56,000 homes damaged, in addition to over a thousand businesses, factories, and other commercial establishments destroyed and partially damaged during the war. Even if construction materials were permitted in to fix the estimated $45 million in damage to private sector establishments, the ban on import and export ensures that these businesses would likely lay idle, as 97% of factories generally have done so for over two and half years. Some cement enters via the tunnels beneath the Gaza-Egypt border, but prices are beyond the reach of most residents, and many international organizations are restricted from using these materials.
Water, Sewage and Electricity Infrastructure
True: “Israel is conducting a dialogue with Robert Serry, special emissary of the UN Secretary-General, regarding vital humanitarian projects, primarily relating to sewer systems”.
More True: Dialogue notwithstanding, Israeli restrictions on supply of spare parts and materials for the devastated water and electricity systems mean that 10,000 people are without running water, 40,000 people are cut off from electricity, and power outages lasting 8 hours, four times per week are a common occurrence in most homes.
Education: Children paying the price
True: UNRWA schools recently received shipments of education materials, including notebooks and pencils.
More true: UNRWA is the only agency permitted to receive school supplies in Gaza, and only after Israel delayed the entrance of these items for several months. Israel continues to ban the entrance of supplies for two-thirds of the schools in Gaza, the private and government-run schools which educate 240,199 children.
The final section of the MFA newsletter includes a quote by EU Special Representative to the Middle East, Marc Otte. Find here another important statement made by Marc Otte recently in an interview for Al Quds newspaper, describing the EU position on the closure:
“[The] Gaza closure and denying entry to construction materials is morally unacceptable and is a failure. I was in Gaza last week, there were large quantities of cement in Gaza, but the only people who do not get it are the ones who most need it. For this, ban on constructions materials is not acceptable and I have explained this to the Israelis and told them that this is also not in their interest. Our position is clear, especially that winter is coming, and people can not live in tents in the cold and under the rain”.
Post-script: a perceptive reader pointed out to us that in a November 24thbriefing to the Security Council, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Mr. Haile Menkerios, made comments in reference to the stalled Serry Plan mentioned in the MFA newsletter:
“Beyond immediate humanitarian needs and the water and sanitation sector, I regret to inform the Security Council that the United Nations has not yet received a satisfactory response from the Israeli government to the proposal, put forward in May, to complete $77 million of stalled UNRWA and UNDP projects in the area of housing units and school and health facilities. The UN has left no stone unturned in seeking approval of this package in extensive consultations with the Israeli authorities, and is confident of its capacity to ensure the integrity of programming. It is completely unacceptable that no meaningful progress has been made in kick-starting UN civilian construction activities essential for the well-being and recovery of a war- and blockade-affected population, half of whom are children”.