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.”

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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.

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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
  •  

    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.

    October 12, 2013
    Rachel Corrie Library Benefit

    Saturday, October 12th 2013
    1:00 pm – 3:00 pm
    High Noon Saloon
    $5 Suggested Donation

    Music con Brio w/ special guest Yid Vicious, Intemperance Collective

    Family Friendly Benefit/fundraiser with proceeds going to the Rachel Corrie Library Center in Rafah. There will also be a craft sale to raise extra funds for the library.

    Please Join us for a Saturday afternoon of music and dance to raise funds for the renovation of the library at the Rachel Corrie Youth Center in Rafah, Palestine! While on a delegation to the Gaza Strip in late 2012, MRSCP members toured the youth center, which provides badly-needed educational and recreational opportunities for Rafah’s children. They were shown an empty library room that needs to be furnished with chairs, shelves, desks, a computer and printer. MRSCP gladly accepted this project and has raised over $3000 of the $3990 goal!

    Yid Vicious has been engaging and delighting audiences throughout the Midwest since 1995. The group has released four CDs and has received numerous Madison Area Music Awards for its unique blend of traditional and contemporary klezmer. In 2009, Yid Vicious became the first performing arts ensemble in Wisconsin to receive a USArtists International grant, to perform at Argentina’s KlezFiesta, an international klezmer festival spanning three cities and including bands from ten countries. In 2006, Yid Vicious toured Chiba Prefecture, Japan as part of the Wisconsin-Chiba Sister State Goodwill Delegation. Yid Vicious is committed to keeping traditional klezmer music and dance alive, and collaborates frequently with internationally renowned klezmer dance instructor Steve Weintraub. The group has participated in the New York-based “KlezKamp: The Yiddish Folk Arts Program”, and was a featured performer at the “KlezKamp Roadshow” directed by Yiddish scholar Henry Sapoznik at the University of Wisconsin in April 2009. Yid Vicious has presented concerts, workshops, and clinics at performing arts centers, cultural festivals, universities, and K-12 schools in Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois, and Michigan, and has performed to statewide audiences on Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television.

    Stephen Zunes On U.S. Involvement In Syria

    WORT 89.9FM Madison

    Regardless of the position taken Syrian involvement, it is important to analyze all of the factors and possible consequences of action or lack thereof. On Thursday September 12th, our host Allen Ruff talked with Stephen Zunes, Professor of Politics and International Studies at the University of San Francisco, about one of his latest articles for Truthout.

    Ruff and Zunes gave us an update on Syria as well as where the United States stands on involvement with Syria. Zunes also stressed the importance of Congress and their role to help stop plans of attacking Syria.“The decision by President Barack Obama to first seek congressional approval of any US military action against Syria is good and important, not only on constitutional grounds but because it gives the American people an opportunity to stop it. It is critically important to convince members of Congress not to grant the president that authority.”- Stephen Zunes in Eight Arguments Against Going to War with Syria.

    A Public Affair is WORT’s daily hour-long talk program. It aims to engage listeners in a conversation on social, cultural, and political issues of importance. The guests range from local activists and scholars to notable national and international figures.

    Quakers Call For Israel Boycott & Divestment

    Breakthrough! Quakers Spanning 3 States Call For Boycott & Divestment

    Anna Baltzer, US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation National Organizer, September 4th, 2013

    Quakers Call for Boycott & Divestment!
    Quakers call for boycott & divestment!

    Exciting news! Lake Erie Yearly Meeting, a regional Quaker organization encompassing Ohio, Michigan, and Western Pennsylvania, has become the first Quaker Yearly Meeting to officially endorse boycott and divestment targeting companies complicit in the Israeli occupation. The recently adopted minute states:

    “Lake Erie Yearly Meeting calls for Friends to join the boycott of products made in Israel’s illegal West Bank settlements and to divest from companies that support Israel’s military occupation and repression of the Palestinian people.”

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    Anthony Bahl Obituary

    Anthony “Tony” Joseph Bahl, age 72, of Chicago, died peacefully on August 1st after a courageous battle with Mesothelioma surrounded by his daughters, Michele Bahl of Madison, WI, and Amy Lee of Chicago, and son-in-law Brendan Lee.

    Tony was a dedicated high school English teacher and a steadfast social justice advocate and longtime participant at the College of the Complexes. However, most of all, he was a tremendous friend, father, and grandfather to his two grandchildren, Bella (2) and Dylan (3). Tony touched so many people by his generous and empathetic spirit.

    Tony is preceded in passing by his late wife Judith (Hutensky) Bahl of Waterbury, CT. In addition to his children and grandchildren, Tony is survived by his siblings Mary Ellen (Jerry) White, Ruth Ann (Richard) Vaske, Virginia (David) Burget, Andrew (Marie) Bahl, and Kathryn (Michael) Shareck. Two sisters, Margaret and Cecilia, preceded Tony in death. A private memorial service will be held in September.

    In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in Tony’s name to Madison Rafah Sister City Project, P.O. Box 55371, Madison, WI, 53705.

    Published by the Chicago Tribune Media Group on Aug. 4, 2013