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Mon Nov 20 19:18:42 MST 2000
Middle East Times, 17 November 2000, International
Israeli blockade, Intifada killing Palestinian
economy Staff and wire reports
A deep economic depression hangs over the Gaza Strip, where industry
lacks material and workers are without employment because of the Israeli
blockade in retaliation for the Palestinian uprising.
Gaza's industrial zone looks like a ghost town. The pride of the local
economy, it has seen 26 businesses close or operate on short time.
The young clothing company Al Bawwab is a typical example. Before the
Intifada, which started September 28, it was producing around 700 pairs
of trousers per day. Today it struggles to reach 400.
Like many Palestinian businesses, it receives its supplies in dribs and
drabs. Two days a week delivery trucks are blocked from coming in from
Israel, upon which Gaza depends for 85 percent of its imports.
"It's better than at the start, when commercial traffic was completely
blocked for three weeks," says company director Hussain Al Bawwab.
But other problems have cropped up.
As the population is stuck in Gaza, and has seen its income collapse,
"it is harder and harder to recover our investment," Bawwab complains.
"On the telephone, the Israelis keep on putting off payment dates, up to
four or five months after delivery."
Furthermore, the workforce has dropped from 100 to 65 and can no longer
concentrate, quitting work at 4:00 p.m. instead of 8:00 p.m.
"I am worried that Israeli soldiers are going to come at any moment,"
says one worker. The industrial zone is situated at the Karni crossing
point, which has been a regular site for deadly clashes between Israeli
troops and Palestinian demonstrators.
The building sector is equally hard hit. "The Israelis don't let through
more than 100 tons of cement a day, although our economy uses 300.
"As a result, the price has risen from 320 shekels (nearly $80) a ton to
600," explains Sala Abdel Shafi, director of the Palestine Trade Center.
Unlike raw materials, food is hardly affected by the blockade, no more
than petrol, water or electricity, the supply of which depends on
Israeli goodwill and has not been hit.
The area is rich in citrus fruit, tomatoes, cucumbers, grapes,
strawberries, dates and melons, and the problem now is one of
over-production because of the restrictions on exports, with the result
that prices have tumbled.
The shops are still fairly well stocked, but with people not able to go
to work in Israel, money is increasingly tight.
So the low prices do not solve the problem of 'Intifada joblessness'.
Some 35,000 Palestinians who had been leaving Gaza each day to work in
Israel have been left short by about 160 shekels ($40) a day.
In Gaza's industrial zone, a dozen or so workers just twiddle their
"Before the Intifada, there were 350 workers building 11 new depots,"
explains Muhammad Abass, an architectural engineer with the largest
local construction firm, Peidco.
Today, because of the lack of cement and gravel for concrete and tiles,
building sites have stopped work just about everywhere, leaving rust to
cover the steel bars of the reinforced concrete and making them
Along with the problems of supply, those investors who had timidly
dipped their toes back in the water here after the 1993 Oslo accords on
Palestinian autonomy, have now headed out.
The US firm Enron, which was to open the first Palestinian power station
in November to enable Gaza to start reducing its dependence on Israel,
has pulled out, and work on the project has stopped.
But the most obvious sign of the effects of the Intifada and ensuing
blockade is the simply inactivity streets filled with idle men passing
the day astride sad-looking chairs.
"The official unemployment rate was around 12 percent, now it is hitting
40 to 45 percent," says trade center director Shafi.
Taxi driver Muhammad describes the sad sight of a car park full of fine
cars intended for shopping trips outside of Gaza.
"Before, it was empty here," he recalls. "There was always someone to
take across to Israel. Now, it's over. And the result my income is a
third of what it was. From around 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) per day,
I am down to no more than 150," he complains.
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Department of Political Science
SUNY at Albany
Nelson A. Rockefeller College
135 Western Ave.; Milne 102
Albany, NY 12222
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