Saturday, January 12, 2008

Report of Popular Committee Against Siege in Palestine

Translated by Adib Kawar. Revised by Mary Rizzo.

Food Products

Since the start of its siege on the Gaza Strip, Israel has permitted the passing of food products on an intermittent basis, but upon considering the Strip an enemy region, the Occupiers limited the number of basic food products. They are allowed to be up to and not exceeding 11 items, certain food products that turned out to be in great shortage, and there is complete absence of a great number of others, thus resulting in an acute rise in prices in addition to other factors, that affected the every aspect of the lives of Gazans. As per the report of the central bureau of statistics, the increase in prices reached 5.79% in August, 3.15% in September, 1.03% October and 1.13% in November; meaning an increase since the beginning of the siege of 8%, compared to an increase in the West Bank of 0.10%.

Estimates for daily consumption of the following food products in the Gaza Strip are: 867 tons of flour, 153 tons of sugar, 110 tons of rice, 75 tons of different kinds of oil and 49 tons herbs and vegetables.

As of 12/6/2007, the strangling siege over the Strip reached its seventh month and the siege's drastic results on all economic sectors of life in the Gaza Strip make it a catastrophic zone of the first degree, as 1.5 million citizens are living under the effect of the siege. The movement of people and goods from and to the strip is paralyzed, and all commercial transactions have been stopped in a manner that contradicts all agreements, intents, commitments and accords the occupation took upon itself with international organizations to facilitate the movement of goods and people within and outside Palestinian territories. They made three agreements on the matter, the last of which was reached in November 2005, relative to movement and transit. Yet, the occupation proceeded with its antagonistic and criminal policy that resulted in shredding the lives of Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and the Strip. The Strip occupation acts have strangled whatever was left of its originally fragile economy resulting from the effects of Zionist occupation. The Strip, which depends entirely on its imports from and through Israel has been greatly affected. Since it started its siege, Occupation forces didn't allow any raw materials to be brought into the Gaza Strip, as well as forbidding Gaza from exporting its products, the outcome of which is an increase in the percentage of its inhabitants living under the poverty line to 85% as per some estimates, while according to the International Bank, estimates increased from 35% by the end of 2006 to 67% by the end of October 2007. The percentage of unemployment reached 65%, therefore, further decreasing the purchasing power to meet basic human needs, not taking into account the sharp decrease of income down to US$ 650 per annum.

Direct monthly losses as a result of the siege are estimated at 45 million US$, which are spread as follows: The industrial sector 15 million US$ namely, 33% of the total, agriculture 10 million US$, 22% of the total, trade, services and fishing 20 million US$, 45% of the total.

Private Sector

Private sector productivity in the Palestinian territories in general and the Gaza Strip in particular had a sharp 76% decline from what it was at before the Al-Aqsa Intifada. Down to 31.1 during the first quarter of 2001, although it recovered some of its vitality to reach an average of 46% during the period extending between January 2006 and July 2006. But upon imposing the full siege on the Strip on mid July 2007, productivity decreased directly to 11%. The cause is due to Occupation authorities having stopped the application of the Customs Code for the Strip, which resulted in banning the importation of all raw materials especially. Since local raw material in all of Gaza’s industrial facilities does not exceed 10%, noting that even this percentage is obtained with great difficulty, thus costs have increased more than the total cost of production. In addition to the difficulty in marketing locally produced products because of the siege, the ban on exportation has dealt a fatal blow to this sector of the economy.

Studies show that more than 65% of the private sector establishments had to decrease their commercial activities to a level exceeding 75%, while noting that 30% of these establishments had to shut down their operations.

The Industrial Sector

The industrial sector depends completely on imported raw materials. It depends up to 80% on imported machines and spare parts, and during the peak season of production (May – June) it is possible to export 748 truckloads of industrial products per month (including furniture, food products, clothing and agricultural products).

Since the beginning of the siege, the Occupation cancelled the application of its Customs Code for the Strip, resulting in the stopping of all industrial activities, which depends up to 85% on imported raw materials that are imported from Israel or in transit through it, and statistics indicate that more than 96% of industrial establishments, a total of 3,900, were shut down, stopping the export of their product; as a consequence 33,000 out of 35,000 employees and workers in this sector joined the ranks of the unemployed up to the date of the imposition of the siege in mid June 2007, and after the siege the number of employed industrial workers does not exceed 2,000.

Estimates issued by the Union of Palestinian Industries said that direct monthly losses since the beginning of the siege on the Strip is 15,000,000 US$, as the net daily income of the industrial sector in Gaza last year was 500,000 US$, which means that a total 97.5 of furniture workshops closed their doors up till the end of 2007, while statements issued by economic sectors shows a total loss of 120,000,000 US$. The affected sectors' statements indicate that no furniture exports, such as 95% of the wood industries, stopped production. Only 30 out of the 600 establishments in this sector are still working, a net loss of 55,000,000 US$ (8 million in July, 10 in August, 12 in October, 13 in November, and 12 in December) in addition to 6,500 workers who lost their jobs, 245 monthly truck loads of exports were stopped.

The Agricultural Sector

The Gaza Strip has 70,000 donums (9364 Hectares) of agricultural land, with a production capacity between 280,000 to 300,000 tons of agricultural products per annum, one third of which is usually exported. The agricultural sector counts 40,000 permanent jobs for citizens in Gaza (namely 12.75% of the working force), it is also the source for food and life for one quarter of the population in the Gaza Strip. Since the beginning of the total siege, the Occupation banned the exports of its products including agricultural products out of the Strip, and furthermore, it prohibited the import of seeds and seedlings, fertilizers and other agricultural requirements, which caused big losses exceeding the original estimates since mid July up to end of 2007. These losses amounted to 65 million US$, and according to the Ministry of Agriculture statements, the average daily losses due the ban of agricultural products is 150,000 US$. Thus, a total loss during the last six months that amounts to 28,000,000 US$. About 25,000 tons of potatoes were destroyed and more than 10,000 tons of other products were destroyed or sold locally at much lower prices then those of export prices (local prices were 10 to 15% of the export prices). While other farmers suffered direct losses as a result of produce being sold locally compared to export prices, as a result of dumping the products produced for export purposes in the local market, it is expected that the total produce in the last season shall drop by 20 to 30% less than in the previous season. Thus, losses are estimated at 10 million US$ monthly.

It is important to mention that the siege destroyed agricultural products for the period between 15 November 2007 and May 2008.

The number of workers in this season is 7,500 farmers, whose estimated production is 14 million US$ which was supposed to be produced fully for export, as an area of 3130 donums (418 Hectares) is planted with strawberries, tomatoes and carnations.

On the other hand, and as a result of the difficulties in the fishing industry, estimates are that 3,000 fishermen are expected to lose their jobs with an estimated monthly loss of 3,000,000 US$.

Health Sector

The health sector has been exposed since Zionist Occupation imposed its siege on the Gaza Slip to a major blow, which affected its ability to provide the basic required health services to its citizens. During the most recent period, a great shortage of a large number of basic pharmaceutical needs, that is 92 types of medicines until the date of the preparation of this report, and another 84 kinds are expected to go out of stock within the upcoming days. This is in addition to the disability of 134 medical instruments to perform because of the lack of spare parts needed for their maintenance, among these machines are 31 kidney dialysis machines. Summed to all of this is the inability of citizens to travel abroad for medical treatment. Statements issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that hundreds of patients with acute medical illnesses, and those which require highly specialized surgeries especially in the brain, nerves and bones, as well as the treatment requirements for cancer patients, and those with kidney and heart diseases, could not travel abroad for treatment. The Occupation refused to allow 720 patients to leave the Strip for treatment since the beginning of the siege, out of which there were 270 serious cases. The Ministry of Health recorded dozens of deaths (more than 70 deaths) of patients that needed treatment outside the Strip, and since the Popular Committee Against the Siege started its activities towards the end of October, it has registered 50 cases of deaths due to the siege itself. The Red Cross has issued reports that document the arrangements they make for the travel of acute cases from Gaza to Israel or though it for medical reasons. Before the siege, there was an average of 300 to 400 cases monthly, but since the siege the number has greatly decreased to an average of 100 cases per month.

Construction and Infrastructure Sector

Since Israel's announcement of the stoppage of the application of its Customs Code for the Gaza Strip, and banning the import of raw materials including iron and cement, the sector has suffered almost complete paralysis, (the stopping of 13 tile factories, 30 cement factories, 145 marble factories and 250 brick factories), thus 3,500 people lost their jobs.

Besides this, all development projects have been stopped, the value of which is estimated at 350 million US$, as the United Nations development stopped all its construction contracts for the infrastructure in the Strip, such as rehabilitation of street, water and sewage facilities, with an estimated cost of 60 million US$, and the UNRWA stopped its program for creating job opportunities at an estimated cost of 93 million US$ from which more than 16,000 people were supposed to benefit.

Freedom of Movement and Crossings

The Gaza Strip is connected with the outside world through six entry points, five of which are connected with the Occupation. They are: Karm Abu Salem, Sowfa, Al-Mintar and Beit Hanoun (Eretz) crossings. As for the Rafah crossing, it is connected with The Arab Republic of Egypt. Israel controls its side of the five crossings, in which complete paralysis is practiced. Israel doesn't permit the transport of people from and toward the Strip except for extremely rare cases. It is allowed only through the Eretz crossing and only for employees of foreign establishments as well as in some acute health cases. Yet, most of these cases’ applications for crossing are refused.

As for people's food product requirements and other supplies, estimates point out that the Strip requires imports from the outside world and from the West Bank. About 300 truckloads per day of raw material and other goods comprise the daily requirements.

Israel doesn't allow the transit except for basic human needs and basic food products. This has resulted in the lack of any stockpile of basic products, in addition to the absence of a large number of basic food products in the Palestinian market. Only 1,806 truckloads were permitted in October and 1812 in November, that is, an average of 60 per day, far below the basic survival requirements.

Rafah Crossing

The Rafah crossing lies in the south of the Strip, and connects it with The Arab Republic of Egypt. It is the only crossing specialized for people from outside the Strip, and it was supposed to be prepared for goods, but that has not been completed yet. The crossing saw several repeated closures during the past two years that lasted for months at a time, and since 15th June, the crossing is completely closed. The result of this is a crowd of 6,000 citizens stranded on the Egyptian side of the border; so they cannot perform their work, continue their studies or even live an ordinary life.

Al-Mintar Crossing (Carni)

Al-Mintar crossing falls to the east of Gaza City, which is considered to be the commercial crossing. It is connected with the West Bank and Israel and the rest of the world, and it is considered to be a vital artery for the life of the Strip's citizens. It is designed to accommodate forty truckloads per day, but after the incidents that took place in the Strip on 14/6/2007, it has been totally closed for exports, but regarding imports it is utilized in a limited manner, and only for importing flour and animal feed.

As an example, only 348 truckloads were allowed to pass in August it was used for four day for 18 hours per day. Thus only 269 trucks were allowed to pass during the entire month. In September it was opened for 7 days only, for a total of 54 hours during which 480 truckloads were permitted to pass. In October there were only 738 truckloads during 13 total days, 71,5 hours of work. In November 631 truckloads passed. This is compared to 8,639 truckloads in May 2007 and 11,329 in April of the same year, noting that agreement with Occupation authorities allowed total monthly work hours of 2300 hours.

Sowfa crossing

The Sofa crossing lies in the south of the Strip (to the east of Rafah, which is specialized for imports of construction material, but after stiffening the siege, the two crossings of Karm Abu Salem and Sowfa started to be used as secondary replacement crossings to Al-Mintar crossing for importing humanitarian needs, even though the crossing was partially and irregularly utilized. Only 2,551 truckloads were permitted to cross in July, and in August it operated for 21 days. In September it opened for 12 days with a total number of 1,792 and 646 truck loads respectively. In October only 500 truckloads passed during 13 days and 71.5 working hours, while in November 182 truckloads were allowed to pass, that is, a reduction of 92% in the number of trucks between July and November. The goods that are permitted to pass are basic goods, vegetables, frozen goods and dairy products.

Karm Abu Salem crossing

Karm Abu Salem crossing is in the southeast of the Strip and is used for importing goods from The Arab Republic of Egypt through Israel. The Occupation used this crossing for limited quantities of goods of human character, and since the beginning of its use Israel interfered to limit the daily number of trucks to 17 daily. It operated in August for 18 days with a total number of 408 truckloads. In September the crossing operated for only 11 days with a total number of 356 trucks. In October 568 trucks were permitted to cross, an average of 15 per day, and a total number of 90 working hours, and in November 1,000 trucks were permitted to cross it.

Beit Hanoun (Eretz) crossing

This crossing is supposed to be used by people crossing towards the West Bank and Israel, and it is considered as fully closed since the start of the crisis. It is used only for employees of foreign establishments and for a limited number of Palestinian Arabs with critical health conditions after coordination with the Israeli liaison office for obtaining permits that are granted only with great difficulty. Not all cases who apply for entry are given permits, and as per the statements issued by the Ministry of Health, the number of rejected applications was 900 patients by the end of November, while reports issued by legal centers indicate that those people who are granted entry permission are subjected to extortion and bargaining by Israeli intelligence agents. (Pressure is put on the patients to force them to collaborate with Israeli Occupation, Translator’s note.)

The Nahal Uze crossing:

This crossing lies at the east of Gaza City and it is used for fuel and gas transportation, with fuel and gas storage tanks connected directly with Israel by pipes.

The Gaza Strip requirements, under normal conditions, is 350,000 liters of petrol, 120,000 liters of benzene, 350 tons of gas, and 350,000 liters of petrol for industrial use in generating electricity. It is important to mention that the Israeli Occupation cabinet decided on 25 October to reduce fuel supplies to the Strip which was immediately put into effect. Estimates show that the reduction of fuel supplies dropped to between 15 -35% of the minimum requirements, which left great negative effects on vital and important sectors of daily life of Palestinians in the Strip. The month of November experienced the stoppage of pumping of a number of water wells that depend completely on fuel to operate, and public sewage treatment stations has also stopped, which certainly exposes the Strip's population to an environmental disaster, in addition to threatening the lives of patients in hospitals especially since a number of hospitals depend on fuel to run their units.

Source in Arabic:

Original article published on 30 December, 2007

About the author

Adib Kawar and Mary Rizzo are members of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity. This translation may be reprinted as long as the content remains unaltered, and the source, author, translator and reviser are cited.

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