The Gaza Strip: An Update

The Gaza Strip: An Update

Near East Council of Churches
The Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees
Middle East Council of Churches
Gaza – Jerusalem, August 14, 2007

With the beginning of the Intifada in 2000, the Israeli Occupation Authorities opted for a policy of closure and blockade on the territories of the Palestinian Authority, especially the Gaza Strip. Workers were not allowed to go work in Israel; raw materials were restricted; factories and other enterprises were destroyed; houses demolished and free movement of people across Palestinian towns and villages was not allowed. Many a home, factory, industrial workshop were hit by Israeli army shelling which negatively affected the Palestinian economy. As a result of the travel restriction on Palestinian workers, unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip jumped to 40% according to UNRWA Commissioner General, Ms. Karen Abu Zeid, and to 85% according to Mr. Omar Sha’ban, a Palestinian economist. At present over 90% of the Gaza Strip families live under poverty line. This politically induced poverty has left its negative impact on social, psychological and behavioral conduct and created innumerable problems on human relations that eventually were reflected in increased violence and extremism.

Near East Council of Churches
The Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees
Middle East Council of Churches
Gaza – Jerusalem, August 14, 2007

With the beginning of the Intifada in 2000, the Israeli Occupation Authorities opted for a policy of closure and blockade on the territories of the Palestinian Authority, especially the Gaza Strip. Workers were not allowed to go work in Israel; raw materials were restricted; factories and other enterprises were destroyed; houses demolished and free movement of people across Palestinian towns and villages was not allowed. Many a home, factory, industrial workshop were hit by Israeli army shelling which negatively affected the Palestinian economy. As a result of the travel restriction on Palestinian workers, unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip jumped to 40% according to UNRWA Commissioner General, Ms. Karen Abu Zeid, and to 85% according to Mr. Omar Sha’ban, a Palestinian economist. At present over 90% of the Gaza Strip families live under poverty line. This politically induced poverty has left its negative impact on social, psychological and behavioral conduct and created innumerable problems on human relations that eventually were reflected in increased violence and extremism.

After the unilateral withdrawal of the Israeli army from the Gaza Strip in summer of 2005, people were hoping for better times. The Israeli occupation, nevertheless, continued its hermetic control of the Gaza Strip particularly through controlling the border crossing points in and out of the Gaza Strip. Accordingly, entry of essential materials, goods and commodities continued to be under Israeli control and people could not move freely in and out of the Gaza Strip. Israel uses the opening and closing of the Rafah crossing to Egypt as a political means of pressure on the Palestinian Authority and its government. Palestinian workers continued to be denied entry to Israel while the Israeli measures of blockade imposed on the import of raw materials have not made it possible to absorb some of these workers in the paralyzed factories and industrial workshops.

After the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip on 14 June 2007, the economic situation in the Gaza Strip has become absolutely disastrous. The Gaza Strip was transformed into an intolerable big prison: the best description of the current situation is that of a full-fledged siege whereby raw materials needed for the Gaza industry are not allowed entry. This has resulted in a complete halt to industrial activity in the Gaza Strip due to the inability of factories, workshops and other enterprises to function without the needed raw materials. The end product of this politically induced industrial stoppage is deeper poverty among the Gaza population.

At present, the situation in the Gaza Strip can be described as follows:

  • Hermetic closure and blockade that does not allow for regular entry of basic food supplies and medicines. Raw materials for industry are not allowed in at all which paralyzes 95% of all industrial enterprises that depend on imports.
  • The leveling of agricultural land thus denying hundreds of farmers and workers employment opportunities.
  • With the hermetic blockade many farmers cannot plant the seasonal produce for fear that they cannot export it. This makes for increased unemployment, for the rise in prices of essential food items which renders the economic situation harsher on the general population.
  • Many of the local institutions working in relief and helpĀ are encountering difficulties in sustaining its operations due to the current situation and difficulties of access.
  • Construction in the Gaza Strip has come to a standstill since Cement and Building Materials are not forthcoming due to closure and blockade. This has further contributed to the rise in the unemployment rate.
  • The current situation of hermetic closure and blockade has contributed to deterioration in economic and living conditions. The increase in unemployment and poverty rates is accompanied by a rise in extremism, hatred and the spread of the culture of violence.
  • Among the remaining small number of NGOs serving the Gaza Strip is the Near East Council of Churches (Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees/DSPR of the Middle East Council of Churches/MECC). NECC continues to offer financial aid, in kind assistance to local NGOs and medical aids, among other ongoing programs and activities. The situation is such that the financial aid extended through ACT Appeal MEPL71 has reached out until today to 1756 families comprising 12844 persons aiming at assisting 6000 families until December 2007. The problem lies, in part, in the fact that many of the humanitarian organizations have stopped working in the Gaza Strip. Hence recourse to NECC becomes a channel to the thousands of the neediest families. Families who received financial aid speak of how the assistance received helped them buy food for their children or needed medications. Both UNRWA and the Ministry of Social Welfare offer periodic food supplements to refugees and non-refugees, respectively. These supplements help a lot but do not offer the neediest population possibility of having some cash in hand to prioritize the spending on family essentials.
  • NECC offers its help across without distinction between refugee and non-refugee. In particular NECC pays special attention to the most marginalized and impoverished groups. The dignity with which a helping hand is extended by NECC to the neediest of the needy receives praise from the people themselves and from other organizations working in the field. Priority is to be with the neediest of people and to make them feel that there are those who care here in Gaza and abroad.
  • It is opportune to thank partners, WCC ACT Office, Churches, individuals, governments and all those who make possible the injection of needed aid to the Gaza Strip.
  • We ask all of you to do whatever needed to lift the blockade off the backs of the Gaza population and we trust that all good-willing and well-intentioned people will contribute to the lifting of the hermetic closure and blockade.