Aug 12, 2002
The increasingly brutal policy of repression by the Israeli army vastly worsened the situation of the Palestinians in the occupied territories in the last year. Incomes have dropped by a third, while unemployment now affects more than half the population of the territories. At the current time two thirds of the Palestinian population have to survive on less than $2.50 a day. The consumption of food products has dropped by 20%.
As always, the most vulnerable suffer the most. According to a new study sponsored by UNICEF, nearly half of Palestinian children are suffering from chronic malnutrition and about a quarter of them from stunted growth and other physical problems due to a lack of food.
At the time of the Oslo Accords in March 1993 between the PLO and the Israeli government under the auspices of the United States, there were many promises of massive aid from the international community. But the newly autonomous territories under the Palestinian Authority didn’t have any possibility for economic development. How could anyone really believe that the territories were economically viable? These territories have no natural resources. They are cut into two distant parts (the Gaza strip and the West Bank of the Jordan valley) and are each broken themselves into small parts by Israeli settlements that monopolize the best farm land and water, and with roads reserved for them alone.
The occupied territory, which in many places is overpopulated, hasn’t benefitted from even a minimum of investment since its annexation by Israel in 1967. The territory was considered a reservoir of cheap manpower and mercilessly draftable labor with Palestinians having to go daily into Israel with a work permit. Finally, while the Accords temporarily satisfied each of the protagonists on the political level (Arafat’s PLO became the head of the embryo of a state and Israel got rid of the major headache of maintaining order in the territories), the Israeli government kept control of the Palestinian economy.
In the following years, little of the hoped-for investment flowed into the territories. And with the number of Israeli settlers rapidly increasing, work permits for Palestinians were reduced.
The new Intifada broke out in September 2001 and the massive policy of repression by the Sharon government made the situation increasingly impossible. The multiple blockade of the territories by the army led to the repeated closing of check points. Even when they were open, Palestinians workers could no longer go to their jobs, or only with a delay of many hours. The lines at the Erez check point, for example, begin at 3:00 AM. Some small shops set up in the territories were reduced to juggling with whatever provisions they received, and it became impossible to move business inventories.
The multiplication of roadblocks on the roads, indeed the pure and simple blocking of roads, transformed all trips into an ordeal. In fact it is necessary to change taxis several times to cross the mounds of earth behind concrete blocks that the Israeli army put at the entrance of towns.
The reoccupation of the principal cities of the West Bank since June, the curfew installed and the massive destruction caused by the Israeli army during its successive operations, ruined the Palestinian cities. Besides the destruction of the infrastructure (the port of Gaza, the Jericho airport), roads and water pipes were systematically broken up, the telephone and electric networks destroyed. Each neighborhood, each village, was reduced to almost individual survival. In the West Bank, families embarked on the cultivation of small farms for food when still possible, for the Israeli army destroys houses and cultivations near the roads, under the pretext of protecting the Israeli army and the Israeli settlers. In certain villages the population doesn’t even have access to drinkable water which it used to pay for and which arrived by tank truck. The digging of a well has to be approved by the Israeli administration and the nearest Israeli settlement. The inhabitants often have to be content with their reserves of rain water.
The level of life has been pushed back 35 years, to the time of the beginning of the Israeli occupation. The Sharon government declared some days ago that it wishes to improve the lives of Palestinians who don’t fight Israel. To prove it, it accepted to free up 14 million dollars and envisages later freeing up two other payments of 14 million dollars each, out of the 430 million dollars that Israel owes the Palestinian Authority on taxes levied at the border. This is a pathetic measure aiming as a response to protests, even including protests from the Israeli population, after Israel’s bombing of a working class neighborhood of Gaza on the night of June 22-23. This bombing led to the death of 17 people, including 11 children.
It was a tiny drop of water in that ocean of misery which is today’s occupied territories. This is what nourishes the current of young Palestinian desperados ready to transform themselves into suicide bombers and which renders life impossible for the Israelis themselves.