When dreams are arrested: Students stuck in Gaza at the Rafah crossing

Esraa Yaseen, Mondoweiss, November 5, 2013

The Rafah border crossing. (Image via RafahToday.org)The Rafah border crossing. (Image via RafahToday.org)

I was supposed to be in Egypt on Sunday October 27 to start my trip to Doha along with a distinctive group of Palestinian students. We were planning to attend the WISE conference. We spent three months preparing for it to speak on behalf of educated students in the Gaza Strip. (WISE is an annual conference organized by the Qatar Foundation in Doha and it refers to “world innovation summit for education.)

We dreamed of unforgettable days. My passport, with its very distinguished sentence– “valid for all countries”– written inside it was kept under my pillow for days. I was thinking of myself everyday looking prettier and more glorious and confident when holding my country and people’s message. I thought that this event will make my year. I once saw myself at the airport then in the plane flying between clouds. I might be exaggerating, but honestly this is the logic of a girl who has her dreams hovering over the world yet restrained by borders.

I was expecting a lot to happen as I live in Gaza, the city where disappointments always pop up from everywhere, bringing out the fact that our passport is not valid to any country. The unacceptable fact was that not one of us was able to get out of Rafah crossing. This is the message we have received:

“Due to the critical security situation in Egypt that keeps deteriorating, I regret to tell you that the Trip to WISE Conference has been cancelled.”

For those who do not know a lot about Gaza, the only two ways to leave to the other side of the world are Erez checkpoint and Rafah crossing. The first one is totally controlled by the Israeli occupation who decide who can enter or leave. The other one is controlled by Egypt, where no one can pass but students who are at risk of losing their studies or people who are on critical health condition.

The situation in Rafah crossing is worsening due to lots of restrictions; if someone wants to leave Gaza, there are two main risks he has to consider: the dangerous situation in Egypt and the way back to Gaza. I do not know why the Palestinians always have to be punished. Don’t we deserve to live, move, have our human rights like any person in the world?

Monday at 01:55 was supposed to be the time of our departure on the plane. It took off but we didn’t. I wished to tell people in Doha to put Legion of Honor on our seats, for we should have been there, if the world did not have this attitude.

After feeling sorry for missing the WISE conference, I am now a bit better as we have had a chance to attend by video conference. We felt happy to participate in some of the WISE sessions, even though it was not a physical attendance. In reality, sending our message from Gaza was the most important for us!

Speakers mentioned our empty seats and appreciated our struggle to attend. Our absence has made sense. We sent the message of our Palestinian people that we do not know to give up. We only know the meaning of life that we should live in all its meaning.

Esraa Yaseen is a 22-year-old studying computer engineering at the Islamic University of Gaza.

How does Palestine’s economy work?


Its legal status is contested, its land is divided and thousands of its citizens emigrate every year – so how does Palestine’s economy function?

A Palestinian labourer works at a construction site of a residential project funded by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Photograph: Said Khatib/Getty Images

Mona Chalabi, The Guardian, 14 October 2013

These days, the economic health of any country relies on that of others – but the Palestinian Territories are exceptionally dependent on factors outside of them. On what do Palestinian economic fortunes rely on and how does the future look?

Israel

Israeli occupation in Palestinian territories, the barrier it has constructed along and within the West Bank as well as its land, air and sea blockades in the Gaza strip have placed severe limitations on the success of Palestinian economic policies.

A complex web of checkpoints and roadblocks make it difficult for Palestinians to travel within the Palestinian Territories for jobs, to bank or to trade. Farmers whose land is now behind the barrier are required to apply for ‘visitor permits’ which Israel regularly rejects – in Akkaba it approved 49% of applications in 2011, and just 20% by 2012. More recently, a report from the World Bank found that Israeli restrictions in the West Bank alone cost the Palestinian economy $3.4bn (£2.1bn) a year, or 35% of its GDP.

Image: Visualizing Palestine.

Israel may have policies that hamper the Palestinian economy, but it is also a major source of Palestinian livelihoods. Unemployment is exceptionally high in the West Bank and the Gaza strip where almost 1 in 4 adults are jobless. According to the latest report from the International Labour Office, some 87,000 Palestinians aged over 15 (around 10% of all those with jobs) are employed in Israel and its settlements.

The majority of these Palestinians are employed in the construction sector, followed by manufacturing and agriculture – all of which tend to be characterised by insecurity. A survey by Palestine’s main trade union found that only 11% of workers in Israeli settlements said they had job security, over half received less than the minimum wage and 65% had been exposed to toxic substances.

Palestinian authority

Corruption is rampant inside many of Palestine’s institutions. In its latest report, the Coalition for Integrity and Accountability (part of the Transparency International Secretariat) produced a catalogue of corruption cases within Palestine’s public bodies. In just over six months, the Corruption Crimes Court received 41 cases, which they say:

included embezzlement, money laundering, fraud, and exploitation of position for personal gain. Those involved in these crimes were high-level employees, such as heads of government divisions, who were conspiring with lower and intermediate level employees.

Pharmaceutical companies and their agents have also been accused of distributing expired food and medicine – though the risks of obtaining evidence on this means that often these crimes go unpunished.

In a 2012 opinion poll, 40% of Palestinians said they had used various forms of corruption to receive a certain public service. In 2011, 47 thousand traffic tickets had not been paid and tax evasion represented 40% of all tax revenues.

Image: AMAN. Ministries most prone to corruption in Palestine during 2012

Palestinian diaspora

The estimated one million Palestinians who have emigrated since 1948 (as well as their children) serve as a vital lifeline for Palestinians who remain in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. As a percentage of its GDP, the Palestinian territories are one of the most dependent economies in the world on remittances. The latest data from IMF in 2010 shows US$ 431m being transferred by workers employed abroad.

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Rafah Prep School Water Filter

Girls Preparatory School A, Rafah

A gift from the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project and others, Dedicated to Karin Sandvik

 

More on the Maia Project from the Middle East Children’s Alliance:

  • Completed Maia Project Water Purification and Desalination Units, January 2014
  • Maia Project Photo Album
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    World Bank Report on Area C and the Future of the Palestinian Economy

    World Bank Report No. AUS2922
    October 2, 2013

    EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

    i. Restrictions on economic activity in Area C of the West Bank have been particularly detrimental to the Palestinian economy. Area C constitutes about 61 percent of the West Bank territory. It is defined by the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as “areas of the West Bank outside Areas A and B, which, except for the issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, will be gradually transferred to Palestinian jurisdiction in accordance with this Agreement”.1 According to the Interim Agreement, the gradual transfer should have been completed by 1997.2 However, it has not been implemented as envisaged in the Interim Agreement3 and in the meantime, access to this area for most kinds of economic activity has been severely limited. Yet, the potential contribution of Area C to the Palestinian economy is large. Area C is richly endowed with natural resources and it is contiguous, whereas Areas A and B are smaller territorial islands. The manner in which Area C is currently administered virtually precludes Palestinian businesses from investing there.

    ii. Mobilizing the Area C potential would help a faltering Palestinian economy. The Palestinian economy has experienced strong growth in recent years, fuelled by large inflows of donor budget support, some easing of the Israeli movement restrictions that intensified during the second intifada, and a PA reform program. By 2012, however, foreign budget support had declined by more than half, and GDP growth has fallen from 9 percent in 2008-11 to 5.9 percent by 2012 and to 1.9 percent in the first half of 2013 (with negative growth of – 0.1 percent in the West Bank).

    iii. This slowdown has exposed the distorted nature of the economy and its artificial reliance on donor-financed consumption. For a small open economy, prosperity requires a strong tradable sector with the ability to compete in the global marketplace. The faltering nature of the peace process and the persistence of administrative restrictions as well as others on trade, movement and access have had a dampening effect on private investment and private sector activity. Private investment has averaged a mere 15 percent of GDP over the past seven years, compared with rates of over 25 percent in vigorous middle income countries. The manufacturing sector, usually a key driver of export-led growth, has stagnated since 1994, its share in GDP falling from 19 percent to 10 percent by 2011. Nor has manufacturing been replaced by high value-added service exports like Information Technology (IT) or tourism, as might have been expected. Much of the meager investment has been channeled into internal trade and real estate development, neither of which generates significant employment. Consequently, unemployment rates have remained very high in the Palestinian territories and are currently about 22 percent – with almost a quarter of the workforce employed by the Palestinian Authority, an unhealthy proportion that reflects the lack of dynamism in the private sector. While the unsettled political environment and internal Palestinian political divisions have contributed to investor aversion to the Palestinian territories, Israeli restrictions on trade, movement and access have been seen as the dominant deterrent.

    iv. Area C is key to future Palestinian economic development. The decisive negative economic impact of Israeli restrictions has been analyzed in many reports produced by the World Bank and other development agencies over the past decade, and Israel’s rationale for them – that they are necessary to protect Israeli citizens – is also well-known. Within this setting, Area C is particularly important because it is either off limits for Palestinian economic activity, or only accessible with considerable difficulty and often at prohibitive cost. Since Area C is where the majority of the West Bank’s natural resources lie, the impact of these restrictions on the Palestinian economy has been considerable. Thus, the key to Palestinian prosperity continues to lie in the removal of these restrictions with due regard for Israel’s security. As this report shows, rolling back the restrictions would bring substantial benefits to the Palestinian economy and could usher in a new period of increasing Palestinian GDP and substantially improved prospects for sustained growth.

    v. This report examines the economic benefits of lifting the restrictions on movement and access as well as other administrative obstacles to Palestinian investment and economic activity in Area C. It focuses on the economic potential of Area C and does not prejudge the status of any territory which may be subject to negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. We examine potential direct, sector-specific benefits, but also indirect benefits related to improvements in physical and institutional infrastructure, as well as spillover effects to other sectors of the Palestinian economy. The sectors we examine are agriculture, Dead Sea minerals exploitation, stone mining and quarrying, construction, tourism, telecommunications and cosmetics. To do so, we have assumed that the various physical, legal, regulatory and bureaucratic constraints that currently prevent investors from obtaining construction permits, and accessing land and water resources are lifted, as envisaged under the Interim Agreement. We then estimate potential production and value added, using deliberately conservative assumptions – and avoid quantification where data are inadequate (as with cosmetics, for example, or for tourism other than that of Dead Sea resorts). It is understood that realizing the full potential of such investments requires other changes as well – first, the rolling back of the movement and access restrictions in force outside Area C, which prevent the easy export of Palestinian products and inhibit tourists and investors from accessing Area C; and second, further reforms by the Palestinian Authority to better enable potential investors to register businesses, enforce contracts, and acquire finance.


    1 The 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Article XI, Para 3(c). 2 See Interim Agreement Article XI, para 2(d) according to which the redeployment of the Israeli military forces from the West Bank and Gaza, except for issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, should have been completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the Palestinian Legislative Council which took place on 7 March, 1996. 3 The Wye River Memorandum signed between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Government of Israel on October 23, 1998 included further arrangements regarding Israeli redeployment from Area C. However, the implementation of the Memorandum was very limited and only 2 percent of Area C was transferred to the status of Area B.
    2 See Interim Agreement Article XI, para 2(d) according to which the redeployment of the Israeli military forces from the West Bank and Gaza, except for issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations, should have been completed within 18 months from the date of the inauguration of the Palestinian Legislative Council which took place on 7 March, 1996.
    3 The Wye River Memorandum signed between the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Government of Israel on October 23, 1998 included further arrangements regarding Israeli redeployment from Area C. However, the implementation of the Memorandum was very limited and only 2 percent of Area C was transferred to the status of Area B.