By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
Governor Mitt Romney, the presumptive presidential Republican nominee suggested in a speech delivered in Israel that the reason the Israelis has had greater economic success than the Palestinians was in part because of cultural differences. He said: "As you come here and you see the GDP per capita for instance in Israel which is about 21,000 dollars and you compare that with the GDP per capita just across the areas managed by the Palestinian Authority (PA) which is more like 10,000 dollars per capita you notice a dramatic, stark difference in economic vitality." He added that "Culture makes all the difference."
Mr. Romney does not seem he knew the Palestinians are under occupation and Israel has control over all major resources in the occupied lands. Land confiscation, structural constraints, arbitrary restrictions imposed on the population and daily military attacks by the Israeli military has a detrimental impact on the Palestinian economic development. Let me brief Governor Mitt Romney on the situation in the occupied lands:
The Palestinian territory that includes the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. During the first two decades of the occupation, the Israeli military introduced regulations and restrictions aimed at shaping the occupied economy according to the requirements of Israel’s interests. It controlled the types of fruit and vegetables that could be planted and distributed for the purpose of creating dependency, undermine competition and facilitate confiscation of land and water. Israel used the licenses to restructure the industries in line with its needs while suppressing all competition, and it reoriented the Palestinian work force to provide cheap labor to Israel.
Since 1994, when managing the daily lives of the Palestinians was transferred to the PA, the West Bank was divided into Areas A, B, and C and designated areas H1 and H2 in the City of Hebron, each area has its own laws and regulations. Israel created Jewish only areas in the form of settlements, industrial parks and military bases that are strategically dispersed throughout the territory and connected by a massive network of Jewish only highways and bypass roads. Areas A and B where majority of the Palestinians reside are not contiguous. They have been split into more than two hundred enclaves, making it extremely difficult for the Palestinian residents to travel from one enclave to another.
The Jewish only settlements and roads have divided the major population centers into communities living in multitude of disconnected enclaves and the military enforces restrictions on movement of people and products. Israel controls the legitimate movement of the occupied inhabitants through a series of permits and decrees backed by checkpoints, patrols and closures. Israeli military has erected hundreds of checkpoints and constructed the separation wall that subdivided the isolated enclaves into even smaller isolated communities. Even the President of the PA, the Prime-Minister and members of his cabinet need written permits to travel in the territory.
The Palestinians’ economy under the PA has been crippled as a consequence of the Israeli occupation. The shrinking economy in the West Bank as well as the poverty and starvation of the people in Gaza enclave are an Israeli man-made disaster and unfortunately, this is sanctioned by the US. According to the 2009 international Monetary Fund report, the economy of the West Bank, that was not bombed or sealed completely like Gaza was “stalling and a failure” due to the tightened restrictions of movement and free access to the outside world. Israel’s unchallenged control of the occupied land blocked the indigenous Palestinians from controlling their resources, the land, water, borders and commerce.
Palestinians’ houses and even villages are being demolished daily especially in Area C; building permits are not issued; the farmers are not allowed to dig wells more than one third as deep as the Israeli settlers; and Israel restricts access to the land needed to meet Palestinian population growth. Israel confiscated privately owned land by first converting it into state property or “closed for military reasons” then into settlements and bypass roads. Israel diminished the areas accessible to Palestinian economic and agricultural development. Palestinians are denied access to more than forty-two percent of the West bank. Closing borders by Israel has disrupted commerce and limited trade with neighboring Arab countries. And the occupation made the Palestinians captive consumers for the Israeli products and Israel has control over Palestinian’s taxation.
The olive and its oil have always been a major source of income for the Palestinian farmers. The Israeli military and the settlers have been destroying olive orchards in many localities and prevented the farmers from harvesting what was left of their trees. Settlers harass and shoot at farmers trying to harvest their olive crop and quite often uproot and torch olive-laden trees.
Since the Gaza Strip has been ruled by the Islamist movement in June 2006, the Strip has been declared “enemy entity” by Israel with backing from the US. This meant tightening the siege on the strip, preventing movements of people and merchandise across the borders, shutting off fuel and power to its residents and crippling its economy in the process. Israel reduced the diesel supplies to Gaza thus no electricity for homes and businesses, no sewage treatment, no irrigation or drinking water and no fuel to power hospitals electrical generators. The siege created shortage of raw materials, ranging from computer parts to cement and steel, destroyed Gaza’s small industry, shut out construction and hindered any economic development. The siege created severance between Gaza and the West Bank, reduced trade between the two regions and affected patients who required medical treatment in Israel. The Strip population that constitutes 40% of the Palestinians under occupation is left dependent on the meager international aid when Israel allows it to bring relief supplies shipments.
Before the siege, ocean fishing had been one of the main industries in Gaza where more than 40,000 people made their living, and fish was a major source of protein for the population. Israel has restricted Gaza’s fishermen from laying their nets beyond three miles from Gaza’s shores. The International Solidarity Movement estimated the average catch dropped from 3000 tons per year in the early 1990s to less than 500 “due to the Israeli siege.”
After the three-week Israeli attack in December 2008 on Gaza, which followed two years of economic siege, between 35% and 60% of the agriculture industry has been wrecked, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Christine Nieuwenhuve, the World Food Program’s Director said, “We are hearing that 60% of the land in the north may not be exploited anymore.” The FAO estimated that the business of 13,000 families who depended on herding and farming suffered significant damage.
Governor Mitt Romney statement about the Palestinian economy and culture is consistent with the American presidential campaigns tradition of pandering for American Jewish money and voters to support their candidacies. When Senator Barrack Obama was running for the high office in 2009, he visited the Israeli town of Sderot, Israel was dropping smart bombs on the besieged and starved people of Gaza killing and injuring hundreds of civilians, and the Palestinians retaliated with sporadic home-made rockets fired on Israel’s southern area that did not kill or injure any Israelis. Instead of acting as a statesman urging both sides to stop violence, Obama asked for more Palestinian blood in an emotional plea. He told the Israelis: "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. And I would expect Israelis to do the same thing." According to the American political analyst Alan Dershowitz, “This heartfelt statement [of Obama] sealed the deal for many supporters of Israel.” In the American politics, pandering for money and votes is a tradition and a culture!
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.