Collapse Versus Revival of the Palestinian Economy

In the afternoon of July 18th, this reporter attended a conference sponsored by the Jerusalem based, IPCRI/Israel Palestine Research Center and Information, regarding t he prospects of reviving the Palestinian economy.

Israeli Professor Ezra Sadan offered a power point presentation and wishful thinking that recovery of the Palestinian economy is possible in the hands of individuals who will invest and by unknown Israeli politicians who will open land and sea borders so Palestinians can export their wares.

Palestinian Samir Houlaila stated, “Two months ago we talked recovery, today we talk collapse. The problem is deeper than unemployment and GNP. The poverty level is deeper due to Israeli closures all over the West Bank and not just in Gaza. Jenin was once a prosperous agricultural area, but now has a 77% poverty rate. Nablus was once a thriving economic center and now has a 69% poverty rate. The U.S.A. and Israel are responsible for the growing poverty rate in Gaza and the West Bank. Unemployment in Gaza is 85% in the public sector. If security for Israel can only be built on a weak Palestinian economy, I need answers as to how can Israel ever be secure” by destroying the Palestinian economy.

“There are over 500 checkpoints [in the West Bank] and if Israel doesn’t take the risk and allow movement of goods through the West bank, then the peace process is in jeopardy and we are all in a mess.”

The elephant in the room, the bottom line and the “O” word; Occupation as the root cause of all the evil and the tottering Palestinian economy was not raised until the question and answer period by Palestinian American business man Sam Bahour.

Sam returned from the USA to Ramallah to build a shopping center, but he and so far all the expatriates who also returned to invest in the Palestinian economy are denied the required ID cards that would ensure their freedom of leaving and returning to occupied territory on their own time table.

What got the group most agitated was the word “collapse” applied to the Palestinian economy. With unemployment rates of 69% in the once thriving city of Nablus and 77% unemployment in the agricultural center of Jenin, collapse appears imminent; if not already a fact on the ground.

On page 5 of the July 19, 2007 International Herald Tribune report by Steven Erlanger, the headline read: UN warns of Gaza economic collapse , from which I excerpt:

Gaza’s already weak economy could collapse unless the main commercial crossing between the Strip and Israel is reopened, Gaza businessmen and United Nations officials warned Wednesday.

The Karni crossing has been shut since June 12 because the Fatah-affiliated Palestinians who operated it fled after Hamas took over Gaza. But Israel and Mahmoud Abbas, who is the Fatah leader and the Palestinian president, have been in no hurry to help Hamas by working to regularize Gaza’s economic life.

Karen AbuZayd, who is the commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which deals with Palestinian refugees, said in an interview: “Without Karni, the Gaza economy will collapse unless it is opened for exports and not just for imports, so we don’t punish this whole people.”

…Gaza director, John Ging, said that “if present closures continue, we anticipate that Gaza will become nearly a totally aid-dependent society, a society robbed of the possibility of self-sufficiency and the dignity of work.”

…More than 68,000 workers have lost their jobs since mid-June, which represents more than 80 percent of the private sector employment, said Nasser al-Hilou, a prominent Gazan businessman.

The UN relief agency halted $93 million worth of construction projects for lack of building materials, and put workers on leave. More important, perhaps, even if factories can produce, they cannot export…

Gaza needs trade, not aid…In security terms, bringing imports into Gaza is not a big problem for Israel. Exports, however, are a different matter. Without Karni, with its sophisticated scanners, every export, even if authorized, would have to be gone over carefully, if not by hand then with smaller scanners, to ensure that no explosives or weapons are being smuggled out of Gaza.

Having no Palestinians on the Gaza side of Karni whom Israel trusts has presented a so far insurmountable problem for exports. Israel has no relationship with Hamas in Gaza and refuses to have one, and while Hamas has offered to bring Fatah back to Karni or even to hire a Turkish company to operate the Palestinian side, the Israelis say it is a Palestinian problem. [end]

Another topic of conversation during the IPCRI conference was the issue of Hamas and the opinions were also polarized.

Palestinians stated the obvious that Hamas was democratically elected and thus should have a place at the peace conference table.

Israeli Gershon Baskin of IPCRI, remarked, “We need large thinkers and risk takers. How do we succeed in getting Hamas to fail on its own and the West Bank to prosper? The international community does not recognize Hamas and Hamas must fail, but the more pressure exerted by America and Israel, will only make them stronger.”

One large thinker and risk taker is the Lebanese American Muslim, Riad Elsolh Hamad, founder of PCWF/Palestine Children’s Welfare Fund who is way ahead of the politicians and most of the group at the Jerusalem conference, for he has already been doing something to revitalize the Palestinian economy.

Riad is the founder of PCWF and runs the nonprofit organization out of his Texas home. PCWF imports goods produced in the West Bank to support not just the artisans and olive oil producers of the Holy Land but also to provide the neediest children of the West Bank with food, clothing, educational tools and health care regardless or religious affiliation.

PCWF has expanded their job creation programs in Palestine during the last year and is now employing more men and women who produce quality Palestinian arts and crafts for sale in the United States and Europe.

PCWF is currently working with women’s groups and social organizations in the cities of Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala, Dheisheh refugee camp, Hebron, Jenin, Nablus, Jayyous, Gaza, Rafah and other cities in recruiting and training women to launch micro business projects and providing them with capital to launch and produce goods and services in their own communities.

PCWF has enabled the women in Hebron to receive a fair price for their fine craftsmanship and their works of art are now being sold by PCWF volunteers in the United States, Europe and the Far East.

Dr. Mona Elfarra, a dermatologist in Gaza will be working with PCWF to set up micro businesses so that the people of Gaza can earn an honest wage and may live with dignity; not on charity and dependency.

The program began in 2006 when PCWF contributed over $5,000.00 dollars to the women’s projects of the Union of Health Workers’ Committees and has provided jobs to the women in the open air prison of Gaza, where a third of Palestinians live and over seven million are children under 18.

Due to the closures at the crossings into Gaza these children are also denied adequate milk and dairy products, another effect of the sanctions imposed upon the innocent people of Palestine for democratically electing Hamas in January 2006 as a response to the corruption and inaction of Fatah.


Eileen Fleming is the author of Keep Hope Alive and Memoirs of a Nice Irish American Girl's' Life in Occupied Territory and the producer of 30 Minutes With Vanunu. Email her at Read other articles by Eileen, or visit Eileen's website.