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.