Tuesday, July 27, 2010

PACE viewpoints: Israel's relaxation on import ban is not aimed at relieving Gaza's economy


Recently Netanyahu announced that Israel will allow a number of goods into beseiged and blockaded Gaza. This announcement was made to pacify a growing condemnation by the international community following the Mavi Marmara tragedy. The world should not be taken in by such deceptive move to salvage Israel's destroyed reputation for their heinious crime towards humanity unfolded on the decks of the Freedom Flotilla. The tragedy however has brought to light the long standing sufferings of Palestinian people especially Gazans who has been systematically denied of the most basic human rights for sustainance and freedom.

Even as this article is written. Netanyahu is meeting up with President Obama to present a list of goods and merchandise to be taken off the list of restricted items into Gaza. This include among other things avocado.. Building materials of course will remain on the list as these will be used to construct bunkers and hideouts for rocket firing terrorist, or so they claim.

The reality is, relaxing import restriction will not do anything to alleviate the sufferings of Gazans if exports are not addressed. For instance if the import of threads and yarn is permitted than it may revive the textile industry in Gaza. However if the ban on exports remain, how would you market your product? More than 85% of products from Gaza were marketed to Israel and the West Bank. Even before the siege Gaza does not have a deep harbour for international trade, which left them with little choice but to channel their goods via Israel. From Israel, the goods may find its way to the rest of the world. The local market is out of the question as the diminishing buying power of the people means that they will only spend what ever little money they have to secure the basic necessities of food and medicine, which by the way is in limited supply.Now even if export restriction is relaxed, how would you operate your bussiness when your plant has been bombed out and there's no building materials to rebuild.

When Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Palestinians were allowed to exports about 450 truckloads of goods. However for security excuses that volume were reduced to just around 70 trucks loads a day. Since the siege in 2007, only 300 truckloads of exports has been recorded to date. Comparing that with 450 truckloads a day during the pre-siege days, the volume of exports in truckloads worked out to be just 4 days over a period of three years!.

The network of tunnels that has been dug during the long occupation years since 1948 has proven to be a big relief to the Gazans. Despite of constant threats of bombardment by the zionist and closure of the tunnels by Egypt, the only arab country it borders, there are too many to monitor and to regulate. It is a valuable lifeline that continues to breath in life to the strip, despite of the debilitating siege. It has actually met the necessities of the people at the bare minimum, although highly critical items like medicine is still unavailable. HAMAS which is in control of Gaza became stronger financially by the existence of these tunnels. It becomes a source of revenue from the tax exacted on the goods brought in through these tunnels, filling up government coffers to run the administration of the strip and to serve the people. That explains how the officials in Gaza managed to deliver cash handouts to all the families affected by the Israel's brutal attack in late 2008 and early 2009.

So what was the real reason behind the near complete ban on exports and relaxation on imports by Israel? The issue is not food and bare necessities becuase these can be channeled albeit in low quantities through the 'illegal' tunnels. The aim here is to debilitate the economy. A full restriction on exports will curtail industrial and manufacturing activities which in turn will destroy the economy. In this way it will dampen HAMAS popularity and undermine its government. The siege is not primarily aimed at preventing weapons or materials to fabricate weapons to reach Gaza. The siege is aimed more at targeting HAMAS and facilitate a regime change. Israel is desperate for a partner that will give in to its agenda of occupation and land appropriation. They have been successful in ousting HAMAS from the West Bank by kidnapping and incarcerating her MPs and lawmakers, giving way for the docile FATAH to take over the government in an unconstituitional means. They hope to achieve the same objective in the Strip. However the parameters are not the same. With food and other items allowed into Gaza, 'the situation in Gaza will improve" according to Israel. The remarks by British foreign secretary, William Hague summed it up "Israel's long term interest lie in creating an environment where Gaza's economy can flourish". He said 'It was a step in the right direction". Well, his remarks are off the mark by several kilometres. It won't relieve Gaza's economy, but it could be 'a step in the right direction' i.e it will boost HAMAS popularity and legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinians in Gaza.

Dr Hafidzi Mohd Noor
PACE (Palestine Centre of Excellence)



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