The New Arab / December 5, 2019
At a recent event in Sweden, I asked the speaker, a senior Israeli diplomat, why Israel’s GNI per capita is almost thirtyfold that of the Palestinians. After all, both populations live on the same land, are bound to the same Israeli currency and live under Israel’s rule.
The Israel diplomat’s security team started to visibly inch closer on me, as my declaration that I was from Gaza rendered me unwelcome.
My mic was taken away while the Israeli guest smirked condescendingly, saying “it’s because we [Israelis] are creative and smart… we’re not lazy monkeys”. He concluded with the traditional racist trope that Palestinians are poor because they spend money on “terrorism” instead of “building hospitals and schools”.
The narrative that Palestinian poverty is inherently self-inflicted while Israel’s riches stem from their ability to “make the desert bloom” is one that Israel relied on heavily to justify the dispossession of native Palestinians.
However, the reality over the last seven decades has been one of organised Israeli plunder of Palestinian resources, systematic dispossession of private properties and brutal treatment of the occupied population to keep them under Israel’s thumb. All with the aim of not only enriching Israel, but also perpetually immiserating Palestinians.
On Monday, a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD, put this reality in numbers, and concluded that just between 2000-2017, the direct fiscal costs of Israel’s occupation for the Palestinians amount to $48 billion, and it continues to rise.
This number shows that not only has the occupation been profitable for Israel, but it that it systematically sabotages any Palestinian attempt to lead a better life; confining the occupied territories to enclaves of despair and poverty that only beget hate and violence, and then blaming Palestinians for the very ruins Israel deliberately perpetuates.
The UNCTAD report should deservedly be treated as big news, even if it slipped the attention of the international community.
To have such astronomical figure – of direct Palestinian losses as a result of Israel’s military rule – officially stated by the UN is a strong basis for denouncing Israel’s conduct in the oPt, and for forcing Israel to honour its obligations towards the Palestinians living under its occupation.
Economic ethnic cleansing
Under international law, Israel as the occupying power is responsible for the welfare and wellbeing of the occupied Palestinians, in accordance with the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Hague Conventions.
However, Israel is not only abandoning its responsibilities, but it’s making enormous profit from its occupation, while deliberately causing enormous financial loses to the Palestinian economy – keeping it on its deathbed, as the full UNCTAD report says.
An occupying power that works relentlessly to immiserate people is not only blatantly violating international law, but is committing a clear act of economic ethnic cleansing, by deliberately rendering Palestinian enclaves unlivable in order to drive them off their homeland into voluntary exile if they are to escape slow death, or pursue a better life.
Israel’s late defense minister, Moshe Dayan, summarised this reality best in 1967, stating that Israel should tell the Palestinians “we have no solution, you shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave.”
Another recent UNCTAD report details further shocking aspects of Israel’s occupation, including turning the oPt into a “sacrifice zone to which [Israel] transfers hazardous waste produced inside Israel, thus threatening the health of the Palestinian people and the integrity of their environment and natural resources.”
These details, added to the political disenfranchisement, economic immiseration and state-sanctioned violence that Israel unabashedly exercises against the Palestinians form a picture indicative of nothing short of a sociocide; the slow and systematic destruction of Palestinian society.
Plundering Palestinian capital
Nonetheless, Israel still offers a way out for Palestinians with economic means; namely diverting capital to invest in Israel itself, to obtain a VIP designation of businessman that gives Palestinian investors a better and more leveraged life than their occupied counterparts.
In 2010 alone, private Palestinian investments in Israel stood at $2.5 billion, (other estimates put it at $5.8 billion) as a way of obtaining the most basic right to move freely in and out of the oPt, while seeking refuge from Israel’s incapacitating restrictions on the Palestinian economy.
Finally, the UNCTAD report essentially highlights not only the shamelessness of the current US administration’s approach to addressing the Palestinian struggle, but also the deep futility of their proposal.
Last June in Bahrain, Jared Kushner proposed a $50 billion investment in the oPt as the magic cure to all Palestinian problems; a final fistful of cash in our faces while falsely claiming that “Palestinians received more aid than any group in history.”
Kushner’s condescending proposal omits how Israel’s occupation in the last 17 years alone has cost the Palestinian economy nearly the exact same figure that he is “generously” offering.
Keeping that number in mind shows how Palestinians don’t need Kushner’s pity, but can stand on their own feet if given the opportunity to build a better life for themselves, without Israeli sabotage.
As the UNCTAD report concludes “No amount of humanitarian or economic support will resolve the conflict itself.
Humanitarian or economic support can only be complementary to a legitimate political process but will not replace political rights or statehood.” In that sense, ending Israel’s occupation is imperative if Palestinians are to ever have a decent life.
Muhammad Shehada is a writer and civil society activist from the Gaza Strip and a student of Development Studies at Lund University, Sweden. He was the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights.