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  • Posts Tagged ‘Palestinian Authority’

    How Congress is crushing Palestine

    A few weeks ago, I emailed an old friend in Gaza, a thirty something economist, to seek out his expertise. Years ago, when I was living in Gaza, he and I frequently exchanged thoughts on the situation, particularly during the frenzy of the Disengagement, and I always valued his opinion. That was then.

    I was writing a side-bar on the economic situation for my forthcoming book, The Gaza Kitchen, and was trying to remember a phrase he had frequently used to describe the paradoxical way that the Palestinian economy as a whole, and particular in Gaza, functions, where aid dependence is nearly 80%, yet where prices on par with a developed country.

    Was it “lopsided economy” I asked him in an email, a response to a “happy holidays” message he had sent out to all his friends?

    His response, which had nothing -and everything-to do with my question, took me by surprise:

    Hi Laila. Things haven’t been good in Gaza lately. I was laid-off work 2 months ago when the US Congress decided to freeze aid to the PA. So the US company I was working with laid-off 30 of its employees, and I was one of the unfortunate ones. The Gaza job market is still going through a dry spell. Imagine a market that does not produces more than 10 vacancies / month at best!

    I am trying to apply outside Gaza, but opportunities without good connections and a foreign citizenship are very difficult to get. In 2009, I tried to renew my Egyptian residency and move out of Gaza for good. However, the Egyptian authorities denied my request. So I am left struggling here applying for whatever jobs there are even if they are a down-grade from where I used to be.

    I hope that you, your husband and the kids are all well. Anyway, sorry to respond with a very gloomy email, and I still believe that one has to keep faith and try to survive the ups and downs of life.

    Gaza is commonly associated with gloom, so the email, one might argue, should not have caught me by surprise. After all, two in three Gazans live in poverty; three-quarters of the population is food insecure or vulnerable, and roughly one-third of the work-force is unemployed-a figure that nearly doubles when one takes into account the youth, who make up more than half the population. 30, 000 people join their ranks every year.

    In spite of this, the most secure have always been the urban elite (or else, one might argue, anyone with an excellent command of English and a fixer contract. Media is the one enterprise that seems to thrive in such dark times), but in particular those who work with the countless international organizations and NGOs, who increasingly over the past few years have come to rely on local hires.

    Yet here is one of these so-called “western minded moderates”, to quote a frequent and favorite refrain of Congress, educated in Cairo’s American University,booted from his job as a direct result of this same Congress’s policies aimed at, what exactly? Punishing the PA for its statehood bid? For attempting to reconcile with Hamas? Or simply in deference to Israel, their masters?

    The West Bank, the conventional thinking might go, is a different story: we have become accustomed to hearing glowing World Bank reports about how well Fayyad’s Ramallah is doing. Earlier today, I came across a TIME blog post which depicts a similarly gloomy outcast, one that many Palestinian analysts have argued was a long-time coming:

    In a donor economy – which Palestine emphatically is – tides and waves are governed by the whims of distant overlords as much as by global finance. Since 2007, Washington has sent some $4 billion to the West Bank, intent on encouraging the moderate governance of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, whose secular Fatah party the militants of Islamist Hamas had just chucked out of Gaza. While Israel enforced a siege on the coastal strip in hopes of making Hamas less popular, the international community gushed dollars into Ramallah. Thus did the city just north of Jerusalem take on the look of a boom town, its hills stippled with construction cranes and flashy new restaurants, especially on the north end, where aid agencies and “non-governmental organizations” set up shop…the effort put money in the pockets of the educated, Western-oriented locals who worked there. Those are the people being laid off now.


    I am Palestine

    Last Sunday, we attended an evening commemorating Palestinian Land Day. I went someone hesitantly since the event was co-sponsored by the PLO mission in Washington. But Yassine convinced it was worth the trip since we were really going to see Ahmed Tibi-the keynote speaker; and a fantastic Dabke troupe; and a oud player.

    The evening started out with the usual declarations and rhetoric by the PLO Mission. Sensing the crowd’s impatience, the Palestinian ambassador pleaded that as Palestinians we should not import our differences from back home. As though a perfectly timed punchline, a picture of Mahmoud Abbas who looked like he was gagging appeared on the screen behind him.

    One of the Mission staff then introduced Tibi as a “proponent of Palestinian rights in the Israeli Knesset” as though it were some secondary issue he is passionate about. The introduction sounded aloof, like an outsider who was introducing Tibi to a foreign crowd, not a Palestinian (the crowd was overwhelmingly Arabic speaking Palestinians, and the speech itself was in Arabic).

    Tibi then took the stage: “I just want to say something here. I was introduced as a mere ‘proponent’ of Palestinian rights. I don’t think you understand, so let me explain. I am not simply a proponent. I dont’ defend or talk about Palestinian rights because I feel like it. I AM Palestinian rights; I EMBODY Palestine. I AM the Palestinian struggle. So please do not insult me.”


    Tibi went on to talk about what he called the “Triangle” of the Palestinian struggle: The Palestinians inside the Armistice line (OPT/WB, Gaza and East Jerusalem), the Palestinians on the outside in the diaspora and refugee camps; and the 1948 Palestinians.

    In fact, the entire evening the Mission engaged in a pathetic to promote the Fayyad government, to demonstrate how they are making the occupied, divided, strangulated territories bloom with their new economic and institution building initiatives in the West Bank. I nearly gagged when they talked about how impressive the economic growth he has led has been.

    Curiously, Gaza was not mentioned once the entire evening. But then, this is the point. To isolate Gaza; to disappear it from the discourse, subtract it form the equation, out of sight and mind. It was a depressing little facade, where, as in reality, the sideshow attempts to distract from the rottenness lurking beneath and the bitterness simmering just below that. The squashing of any and all dissent and use of torture by CIA-trained Abbas forces in the name of keeping “order” (a friend of mine here in Maryland shares with me daily stories of the torture her brother is enduring at the hands of such forces, who are attempting to “convince” him which way to vote in July’s municipal elections and discourage opposition rallies). Really, a small-scale do-over of Oslo.

    For more on the perils of the so-called Netanyahu-Fayyad Initiative (“West Bank first” and “Economic Peace”) see this excellent article by Ziyaad Lunat on EI.

    “Economic peace,” coupled with the “West Bank First” policy of economic development serves too as warning to Palestinians. They either conform to a political program approved by Israel and Western donors or risk sharing the dire fate of Gaza, under a crippling siege since June 2007.

    Each ribbon cutting ceremony Fayyad attends reinforces the normalcy discourse propagated by the PA and Fatah-affiliated media that contrast it to the destruction and despair of Israeli-blockaded, Hamas-controlled Gaza.

    A year on, the cost of the Netanyahu-Fayyad plan is becoming clear. Low-income Palestinian families and small business are being encouraged to borrow to fuel a high-risk economy. Israel has proven time again that it won’t hesitate to strike a blow against Palestinian infrastructure should they dissent from the current consensus in its favor.

    The economic peace model comes with a dose of cultural imperialism. Palestinians do not have basic freedoms but they are being told that they can enjoy the mundane and superfluous in cinemas and shopping centers.