UN issues gloomy Palestine report as protesters set themselves ablaze
Published Wednesday, September 5, 2012
The United Nations UNCTAD agency issued a gloomy outlook for the Palestinian economy on Wednesday, arguing that tougher Israeli policies and settlement expansion were pushing the occupied territories and Gaza deeper into poverty.
The report comes on the heels of a string of self-immolation attempts in the West Bank and Gaza which has led to one death. A Gazan man was about to douse himself and his six-year-old daughter in fire in Ramallah Wednesday because, apparently, he is unable to pay for the girl's cancer treatment.
Occupied Palestine's economic situation had been aggravated in 2011 by a sharp drop in foreign aid, which for years provided a vital support, dimming any hope for an upswing even in the longer term, a report from the trade and development body said.
"(Israeli) restrictions on movement, faltering aid flows, a paralyzed private sector and a chronic fiscal crisis cloud the horizons," UNCTAD declared. Amid persistent high unemployment, it added, "one in two Palestinians is classified as poor."
The report, for an UNCTAD meeting in Geneva later this month, said the impact of the Israeli occupation since 1968 on the productive base of the Palestinian economy, and especially its once-flourishing agriculture, "has been devastating."
"The economy has lost access to 40 per cent of West Bank land, 82 percent of its ground water, and more than two thirds of its grazing land," it said.
In Gaza, under a long-time land-and-sea blockade by Israel, 85 percent of fishery resources were inaccessible.
UNCTAD said the 9.9 percent overall growth across the West Bank and Gaza, itself ruled by the Islamic Hamas, had been driven by reconstruction after the Israeli army operation there at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009.
Israel says that that operation, which was marked by widespread destruction in the coastal strip region, was launched to halt rocket attacks by Islamist militants on Israeli villages north of the border.
In 2011, according to the UNCTAD report, Gaza's tiny economy grew by 23 percent while the larger West Bank saw growth of 5.2 percent. "But this was driven by rebuilding of what was there, and is not sustainable," agency official Mahmoud Elkhafif told reporters.
Real gross domestic product in Gaza was still 10 pct below its 2005 level, and the year's overall expansion - from the low base of 2010 - was accompanied by a decline in real wages and in labour productivity across the Palestinian territories.
The low base, the report said, was also the result of Israeli closures on the West Bank where Israel had also increased the number of its barriers to movement of Palestinian people and goods from 500 in 2010 to 523 in 2011.
The 2011 growth also had no impact on unemployment, which remained around 26 pct of the work force.
The UNCTAD comment was underpinned by another statement from the U.N.'s International Labour Organisation (ILO) - which put the jobless rate at 21 pct - following the suicide in Gaza at the weekend of an unemployed youth.
"The situation of workers in Gaza is one of the worst in the region and the world," Nada al-Nashif, ILO's regional director for the Arab states, said in a statement.
The UNCTAD report said that across Palestinian areas there was "continued severe poverty and chronic food insecurity." On the West Bank, food insecurity affected 66 percent of the population and more in Gaza.
In still largely Arab-populated but Israeli-administered eastern Jerusalem, the poverty rate was estimated to be 78 percent, even higher than anywhere in the West Bank or Gaza, the U.N. agency added.
Protesters setting themselves ablaze
A Palestinian man tried to set himself alight in front of protesters in the central West Bank city of Ramallah Wednesday, onlookers told the Ma'an news agency.
Protesters stopped the man just as he was about set himself and his six-year-old daughter on fire at Manara Square in the center of Ramallah, witnesses said.
Police officers arrived at the scene shortly after and detained him.
Hasan Qahwaji is in his 30s and is originally from Gaza. Locals said his daughter suffers from cancer and that Qahwaji is unable to pay for her treatment.
The incident is the latest in a wave of self-immolation attempts in occupied Palestine over the last week.
Khaled Abu Rabee, 42, doused himself in gasoline Tuesday after entering the municipality building in Dura, Hebron, but a security guard prevented him from setting the petrol alight.
On Thursday, Ehab Abu Nada, 18, poured petrol on himself before setting himself alight near the Shifa hospital in Gaza City. He died on Monday, according to medical officials.
All three incidents occurred as Palestinians joined protests across the West Bank and Gaza to protest rising living costs in the occupied territories.
Overall unemployment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip stand at 57 percent and 30 percent respectively, with youth unemployment coasting at around 70 percent.
Roughly 75 percent of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza depend on international aid.
Criticism has been levied at Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's neoliberal economic policies that has left Palestinians largely dependent on foreign donors, while prices continue to soar.
After a day of protests on Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority said it asked a special economic committee to study a government memo about high living costs.
The committee will respond to the memo, prepared by the Ministry of National Economy, within two days.
The report focuses on possible ways to cope with the situation amid growing protests.
The assignment was made during the PA cabinet’s weekly meeting in Ramallah where Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his ministers discussed the financial situation as they prepared a budget for 2013.
The International Labor Organization released a statement Wednesday addressing Abu Nada's suicide and warning of “serious concerns” about “the precarious situation of workers in Gaza and the West Bank.”
“The situation of workers in Gaza is one of the worst in the region and the world,” said Nada al-Nashif, ILO regional director for Arab states.
“Gaza's growing youth population has a right to better work opportunities and growth with equity. They need decent jobs, a minimum of social protection and respect for their basic rights to ensure a life of dignity.”
The Palestinian West Bank has been under harsh Israeli occupation since 1967, while the Gaza Strip has been besieged by Israeli forces since 2007, leading the UN to declare a humanitarian crisis there.
(Al-Akhbar, Reuters, Ma'an)