Israeli export ban piled economic misery on Palestinians of Gaza, as youths increase emigration

Juan Cole

Informed Comment  /  September 21, 2023

Ann Arbor – Palestinian authorities are increasingly concerned about what they see as an increase in emigration by young Palestinians from the Gaza Strip, which has been under Israeli siege since 2007. They cite lack of jobs, a poor economy, high prices, and frequent electricity outages, according to the Palestinian Arab Front. This small group, with a secular Arab nationalist orientation, and which is close to Fatah in the Palestine Liberation Organization, places some of the blame on the fundamentalist, Hamas government of the strip.

The PAF pulled no punches about the deadly effects of the Israeli occupation/ siege on Gaza, saying that Israel “continues to impose its siege on the Gaza Strip and has turned it into a large prison for years, and seeks with all its measures to undermine all the structures of life for our people, which has made life unbearably difficult for the citizens.” It nevertheless did allow that some responsibility for the difficulties of the youth lie with “those responsible for ruling the Gaza Strip,” i.e. Hamas.

The Front called on the international community to halt the Israeli siege and other punitive measures imposed on the Gaza Strip, since these constitute “policies of collective punishment that constitute a grave violation of the rules of international law that it is pursuing. The occupation has been against our people for decades, in full view of the world, without anyone doing anything.”

The PAF spokeswoman concluded: “We reaffirm the right of the youth of Gaza to live in dignity, freedom and justice. We pledge our Palestinian people to continue the struggle to achieve these goals that the martyrs believed in and died to achieve.”

Meanwhile, Ismael Abd al-Hadi at Al-Quds al-Arabi (Arab Jerusalem) reported that a couple of weeks ago, Israel suddenly and arbitrarily halted the export of all goods from the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing. Gaza’s exports primarily go to the Palestinian West Bank and to Israel, though some goods end up in Jordan. These everyday forms of oppressive occupation, which constrain people’s lives, are seldom reported at any length in the US press (and maybe never on television news).

The Israeli authorities said that the gate closure was owing to their discovery on September 4 of explosive materials and weapons in a shipment of clothing destined for the Gaza Strip, likely sent by a West Bank cell of Hamas. While Israeli authorities are right to be alarmed by such gun running, for them to close the entire gate to all exports for a full week, as they did, is a form of collective punishment. Its intent is to harm Gaza’s farmers and import-export merchants in hopes that they will in turn crack down on the Palestinian militants in Gaza, themselves.

The some two million Palestinians of the occupied Gaza Strip produce fish, vegetables, clothing and furniture, and exporting the pricier clothing and furniture gives them a crucial extra income, given the limited market for some items in poverty-stricken Gaza itself. The Ministry of the Economy in Gaza produced figures suggesting that the closure caused a loss of some $2.75 million for the week it continued.

To her credit, Julia Frankel at AP wrote earlier this month, “Challenges faced by Gaza’s fisherman during the closure were particularly acute. Their surplus stock perished before it could reach markets in Israel. Gaza’s main fishermen’s union reported $300,000 in losses due to the closure, a significant blow. Fish accounted for 6% of all Gazan exports in July.”

Gaza’s agricultural sector posted $82 million in sales abroad last year, and its clothing exports netted $22 million.

Al-Quds al-Arabi quotes Palestine rights activists as saying that the gate closure was a form of collective punishment. Collective punishment is not allowed to occupying powers toward occupied populations by Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 on the rights of occupied populations and by the Rome Statute of 2002 that underpins the International Criminal Court.

Israel has imposed a partial siege on the Palestinian Gaza Strip since 2007, when a coup attempt against the elected Hamas government failed. UNCTAD estimates that the Israeli occupation costs the Palestinians of Gaza about $16.7 billion per decade, so by 2027 that would be $33.4 billion. The difference between a decent life and crawling on trash hills to find the wherewithal to live. Elements of the siege constitute war crimes. As for the exodus of Palestinian youth, that has been hailed as a goal of Israeli policy by right wing members of the Israeli parliament. Unfortunately, since Palestinians are kept stateless by Israel, they are not wanted in most countries, and those who leave often find a watery grave in the Mediterranean or end up undocumented and with blighted lives abroad.

Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment ; he is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the author of, among others, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam