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French Version

Palestinians observe Ramadan under weight of Israeli occupation

The Palestinians observe this year's holy month of Ramadan with empty pockets.

The Palestinians observe this year's holy month of Ramadan with empty pockets. Some 60 percent of Palestinians are living on less than $2 a day and many households in the Occupied Territories are deprived from enjoying the Ramadan delight because of Israeli military actions.

Besides the occupation, festering unemployment and poverty is rife. Thousands of families in the West Bank and Gaza survive today on Arab and foreign donations. These families have spent all their savings in the past two years of clashes during the Intifada and today they have nothing left. But Arab donations have failed to meet the daily demands of many families. This is despite the fact donations from the countries of the region have increased during Ramadan to provide Palestinian families with their needs of food and new clothes. The social situation is getting worse in the Gaza Strip, where about 85 percent of the 1.2 million people that live there are below the poverty line. In the West Bank, the rate remains at around 60 percent.

Palestinian officials warn poverty and unemployment are likely to grow by the day. About 65 percent of the Palestinian workforce is unemployed and this in itself will lead to widening the poverty margin. Statistics show the Palestinian economy has lost more than $6 billion since the Israeli aggression on the West Bank and Gaza began on September 2000. The World Bank, however, estimated the losses in the Palestinian economic sectors at more than $15 billion, including the destruction of infrastructure of all the economic and financial sectors in the Occupied Territories.

The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) notes almost all of the economic sectors in the Palestinian territories are completely destroyed because of the Israeli actions and their reoccupation of the West Bank and Gaza. PNA officials say Israel is deliberately bringing the Palestinian economy to its knees. "All the Arab and international support for the private and public sectors in the Occupied Territories is useless if the Israeli occupation remains," said Palestinian businessman Talal Nasser Aldain. "There should be a permanent political solution to the current situation in line with Palestinian demands and one that supports the economy." Israel's unrelenting military atrocities are also affecting its people. About one-fifth of the Israelis are below the poverty line, while unemployment rates are soaring up to as high as 15 percent.

Israeli businessmen and economists warned last week that the dismantling of Sharon's old likud-led coalition had a heavy toll on the economy. More than $1.5 billion were lost on the Tel Aviv stock market and forced many investors to rethink their plans of establishing business in Israel. Sharon failed to notice that his economy was cracking when he pursued his aggressive "peace with security" plan soon after his election in February 2001. In Jerusalem, Israeli reports said 14 percent of the Israeli-owned businesses are crumbling, and 71 percent of the city's Jewish population are unemployed.

Palestinian economists warn the current severe economic and social conditions in the Occupied Territories will deteriorate if Israel does not stop its military action immediately.

They called on the international community to support the Palestinian economy and help its people from being enslaved. The Palestinian calls were echoed by Sebastian Dessus, the World Bank senior economist, who said the Palestinian economy can be independent from Israel. "The forced integration of the Palestinian economy to Israel since 1968 didn't generate dynamic growth in the Palestinian areas," Dessus said in his recent report, titled 'Long-term policy options for the Palestinian economy.' He believes the Palestinian economy is totally ruined after two years of bloody conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis. And rebuilding it needs much work. "Rebuidling the Palestinian economy will provide as challenging-and urgent-a task as the reconstruction of Palestinian political institutions now supposedly underway," Dessus added. One of the main points Dessus focuses on is Palestinian labor. He attributes the dependency of the Palestinian economy on Israel as due to the rising numbers of Palestinian labor inside the Jewish state.

Before the Intifada, more than 120,000 Palestinians used to work everyday inside Israel. World Bank statistics show the Palestinian economy has lost more than $800 million in annual remittances since the eruption of Intifada in September 2001.

Palestinian labor in Israel was limited to the agricultural and construction sectors. PNA Minister of Labor Ghassan Al Khatib rejected the accusations being made against the Intifada. "Palestinian workers used to go to work inside Israel during the first Intifada [1987-1993]," he pointed out. "Today, the Israelis are changing their tactics to keep the Palestinian economy under their orchestration." Only 20,000 Palestinian workers are allowed today to work inside Israel, although these workers are often impeded from entering Israel. Sharon's cabinet has toughened the work permits for Palestinians, making them subject to its military procedures.

Dessus said the work inside Israel has affected the Palestinian economy. "Due to their bleak history since 1948, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza pursued a development strategy of exporting their labor rather than goods," he explained. This, added Dessus, made the Palestinian economy one of the world economies most dependent on remittances. (See following article in elaboration of views put forward by Dessus).

All these factors are compounding the Palestinian economy. It's in bad shape not because of its own doing but because of Israeli restrictions whose officials are turning the screws harder in a bid to put pressure on Palestinians to end the Intifada without the political goals the people of the West Bank and Gaza are demanding.

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