The UN said some three years ago that it expects Gaza to become ‘unliveable’ by 2020,” recalls Majed Abusalama, award-winning Palestinian journalist, scholar, campaigner and human rights defender.
“Since then, Israel not only refused to take action to reverse Gaza’s rapid deterioration into a post-apocalyptic wasteland but intensified its attacks on the Strip, hindering efforts by activists, NGOs and locals to keep this open prison habitable for a little longer. With the novel coronavirus now spreading throughout refugee camps and communities across Gaza, we cannot afford to wait any longer for the world to acknowledge our suffering and take action.”
In the light of a recent UNCTAD report, Abusalama’s words ring prophetic.
The report, entitled ‘Economic costs of the Israeli occupation for the Palestinian people: the Gaza Strip under closure and restrictions’, notes that Gaza’s economy is on the verge of collapse, with damage from Israel’s military operations estimated at around six times the Palestinian enclave’s annual gross domestic product (GDP) in 2018, or 107 per cent of the total Palestinian GDP.
Israeli military operations and the prolonged closure of the Gaza Strip caused economic damage of 16.7 billion dollars between 2007 and 208, driving the poverty rate up almost fourfold compared with what it might have been otherwise, said the report published on November 25
Gaza’s poverty rate stood at 40 per cent in 2007 but would have fallen to 15 per cent in 2017 if not for the prolonged military operations; instead, it has now risen to 56 per cent.
The depth of inequality is also far more severe than it could have been, says the report. The “poverty gap”, a measure of how far from the poverty line households are on average, was 20 per cent in 2017 but would have been around 4.2 per cent if not for the impact of military operations.
Between 2007 and 2017, Gaza’s economy grew by five per cent, or less than half a percentage point per year and its share in the overall Palestinian economy halved from 37 per cent to 18 per cent, UNCTAD’s Coordinator of the Assistance to the Palestinian People, Mahmoud Elkhafif, told a press conference.
The report aimed to quantify the impact of three major rounds of Israeli military hostilities since 2008 and the prolonged economic and movement restrictions imposed since Hamas took control in the Gaza Strip in 2007.
Since then, two million Palestinians have been subject to a prolonged Israeli closure and severe economic and movement restrictions that in effect amount to a blockade in the 365 square kilometres Gaza Strip. Moreover, the Gaza Strip has been the subject of three major rounds of military hostilities since 2008.
“The result is the near-collapse of the regional Gaza economy while trade is severely restricted from the rest of the Palestinian economy and the world,” says the report.
“Lifting what amounts to the blockade of Gaza is essential for it to trade freely with the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory and the world and restore the right to free movement for business, medical care, education, recreation and family bonds. Only by fully lifting the debilitating closure, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1860 of 2009, can we hope to sustainably resolve the humanitarian crisis.”
Most people in Gaza have no access to safe water, regular and reliable electricity supply or even a proper sewage system.
UNCTAD’s analysis of the potential economic upside of ending Israeli military operations and travel restrictions did not include wider benefits to the Palestinian people, such as the income from a natural gas field off the shores of Gaza.
The report recommends the Palestinian government should be allowed to develop those energy resources, and Gaza’s economic potential should be boosted with investments in seaports, airports and water and electricity projects.
Richard Kozul-Wright, Director of UNCTAD’s Division on Globalisation and Development Strategies, said the two million Palestinians living in Gaza are now facing a health emergency because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he added that there was “cautious optimism” that the incoming U.S. administration of President-elect Joe Biden could lead to a positive change of tone in Washington, DC.
“That obviously raises hopes that there may be changes in the relationship between Israel and Palestine,” he said.
In a briefing to the UN Security Council on November 18, UN Special Coordinator Nikolay Mladenov told ambassadors that Gaza remains the most pressing concern as the territory is ill-equipped to face a major spike in COVID-19 cases due to poor living conditions and a fragile healthcare system.
He warned that any major outbreak of the disease would have a catastrophic impact on the two million Palestinians living there, who are already affected by severe movement and access restrictions, cycles of violent escalation, and years of humanitarian crisis.
“For these reasons, I welcome the Palestinian Authority’s decision to restart civilian and security coordination with Israel. I express my appreciation to Israel for confirming that existing bilateral agreements continue to govern relations between both parties, particularly in the context of economic, security and civilian affairs.” He said.
Mladenov reported that the UN and its partners continue to provide critical humanitarian development and assistance in Gaza, as unemployment and hunger have soared during the pandemic.
Roughly 121,000 Palestinians have lost their jobs, while some 40 per cent of all households have seen their incomes drop by more than half.
Assistance provided by the UN and partners has included the delivery of nearly 85,000 COVID-19 tests, advanced laboratory equipment, ventilators, monitors and other items.
However, Mladenov also expressed hope that the restart of coordination will bring an end to temporary measures brokered by the UN which have facilitated the transfer of patients out of Gaza and allowed for humanitarian supplies to be imported into the territory.
COVID-19 is only the latest suffering to have afflicted a beleaguered Palestinian territory and the situation its inhabitants face day after day is summed up by activist Abusalama.
“Growing up in Gaza, I always felt a sense of emergency. My family was always prepared for the worst because the worst could knock on our door at any time, as it did during the attacks on Gaza in 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014.
“As a child, I knew that living in fear every single day was not normal. In my heart, I rejected the normalisation of everyday horrors, because I did not want to lose touch with my humanity. Yet I eventually had to come to terms with the situation I was born into and my surroundings.
“Now, my niece and thousands of other children living under Israeli siege in Gaza, are growing up with the same fears and the same sense of constant emergency. As they try to sleep through the sounds of bombs and protect their toys from the horrors that are just outside the door, they are being forced to accept as normal a violent reality that no child should ever even witness.
“In recent years, there has barely been a day in which Israel did not bomb, shoot into, or physically invade what is not only one of the most densely populated areas on the planet but also a place which has been besieged for more than 13 years, with major shortages of the basics required for normal human life. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 November 2020]
Photo: Families in Gaza receive food baskets through the UNRWA home delivery programme. Credit: UNRWA/Khalil Adwan