Gaza after ceasefire
Gaza's economy is at its worst after two months of ceasefire
The most recent round of catastrophic fighting between Israel and Gaza concluded over two months ago, leaving broken infrastructure and a paralyzed economy that threatens the livelihoods of Gaza's two million citizens.
“The total losses and damages amounted to $479 million, distributed across three sectors: housing and infrastructure, which accounted for 61% of total damage; economic development, which accounted for 33% of total damage; and social development, which accounted for 7% of total damage,” the Higher Governmental Committee for Gaza Reconstruction announced on Monday.
According to Ali al-Hayek, head of the Palestinian Businessmen Association, the industrial and private sectors are the most affected by the crisis.
“During Israel's most recent invasion, more than 1,000 economic facilities were damaged. Since 2000, the private sector has been singled out for special attention, despite having gone through three prior wars without receiving any assistance,” he claims.
“There will be successive collapses of the private and all productive sectors in the Strip, which will directly reflect on unemployment and poverty rates,” Hayek predicts if quick answers are not found.
The Khudair Pharmaceuticals and Agricultural Tools Company, located in Beit Lahiya in the north of the country, was one of the institutions targeted by Israeli bombings during the 11-day cross-border fighting in May.
“On the 15th of May, the 6-acre site, which contained massive amounts of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, plastic tubing, and other agricultural supplies, was directly targeted by Israeli aerial bombing, resulting in a massive fire and total destruction of the facility,” says Abu Haytham Khudair, the facility's owner.
The bombardment, according to Khudair, caused an estimated loss of NIS 50 million (about $15 million) and produced a mass of pollutants that threatens the entire surrounding area.
"The targeted storage facility resembles Chernobyl now." Residents in the area are already suffering from respiratory and skin illnesses as a result of the poisonous mix of chemicals. This would result in a dangerous environmental and health disaster, so I urge authorities and international groups to take action as soon as possible,” Khudair said.
He claims that Israel targeted significant economic facilities in Gaza on purpose.
“On the same night that my storage facility was destroyed, over 35 of the Strip's largest businesses were also damaged. “Israeli aircraft forces targeted key facilities knowing full well that the Gaza Strip's firefighting services would be unable to extinguish the fires,” Khudair adds.
Mohammed Abu Jayyab, a Gaza-based economist, added that IOF targeted vital economic assets, which further exacerbates the harsh living conditions of the Strip’s residents.
“More destruction would turn the coastal enclave into a large, [unproductive] area of consumption, rendering any kind of solution to deal with the crisis impractical,” he says.
Abu Jayyab suggests that the aggravated crises of unemployment, poverty and food insecurity will eventually lead to a strategic shift in the international programs supporting the Palestinian territories.
“There will only be [rapid] relief programs, instead of strategic development programs that aim to strengthen the role of the Palestinian private sector in ensuring a robust economic cycle,” he says.
According to the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor report released in May: “The Israeli military attack led to widespread destruction in the agricultural sector, including agricultural lands and facilities that have been bombed by hundreds of air and ground raids. … In addition to the damage caused by the direct bombing, hundreds of dunams and farms suffered massive losses as a result of farmers’ inability to reach their lands and irrigate or harvest crops during the days of the attack.
Ahmad Abu Owda is a small farmer from the northern Gaza Strip ,who lost his only source of income during the escalation, two dunams of land planted with cucumbers.
“65 % of my greenhouses were damaged after being hit by Israeli airstrikes,” he says.
“But that is not all,” he says. “I had to choose between losing the crop to drought and losing my life in an Israeli raid. I couldn’t reach my land during the escalation to irrigate the crop; as a result, I’ve lost what was left of it. After all the hard work, everything was gone. This is so painful.”
Given his accumulated debt and deteriorated living conditions, Abu Owda could not replant after the fighting ended.
Naji Sarhan, the deputy head of the Public Works and Housing Ministry in the Hamas-run Strip, says that Gaza “which has been living under Israeli blockade for more than 15 years, can bear no more delay in the reconstruction process.
“It has to start immediately because any procrastination will lead to a bigger humanitarian crisis. At that point, no one will be able to predict the Palestinians’ reaction, because they will have nothing more to lose,” Sarhan says.
Unconfirmed rumors suggest that Israel may open border crossings in the next days to enable the entry of some items into the Gaza Strip, including medications, food, and a limited number of non-dual-use raw resources (i.e. raw materials that cannot be utilized for military purposes). However, Abu Jayyab claims that this will have no beneficial effect on Gaza's economy.
Even if this occurs, “we cannot anticipate significant economic development.” In reality, it would be worse than before, because the amount of people permitted in [under this scenario] is just half of what was allowed before the escalation,” he argues.
“We're talking about fundamental items for Gazan citizens' everyday consumption,” he continues, “while the vast majority of other materials remain banned, depriving economic and productive sectors of any opportunity to grow and develop.”
“No meaningful economic progress can take place without lifting the Israeli siege, restoring crossings unconditionally, and empowering the Palestinian economy through guaranteed freedom of travel into and out of the Strip.”