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Dangerous roads and a crippled economy: The fragmented West Bank

Dangerous roads and a crippled economy: The fragmented West Bank

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Politics Marginalized Groups Basic Rights

Tuesday 28 November 202308:10 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

هكذا تحولت الضفة إلى "سجن كبير" باقتصاد معدوم


“I was stopped by the occupation soldiers at the 'Container' checkpoint. After searching my car and inspecting my phone under the pretext of suspicion, they took me to a very small room and brutally beat me on the head and all over my body. Due to the difficulty of moving between provinces and the danger caused by the beating, which resulted in rib fractures and liver damage, I have stopped working,” shares Mohamed Sawayfeh, a 31-year-old from Idhna, Hebron, as he talks about what he faced earlier this month while trying to reach his workplace, before ultimately stopping working.

Mohamed is married with three children. For 12 years, he had been working in Palestine as an electrical contractor and in building renovation. However, with the start of the war on October 7, and alongside many other workers in Palestine, Mohamed lost his job. He says, “The country was closed, so I had to leave work, leave my tools, and I haven't received my dues. In an attempt to adapt to the war, I tried to do the same work in Jericho, despite Israeli measures such as road closures and dangers on the road – until what happened to me at the Container checkpoint.”

The Container checkpoint is an Israeli checkpoint near the town of Sawahreh in the southern West Bank. It separates the northern and southern parts of the West Bank and is the only route for Palestinian vehicles to cross between the southern provinces (Bethlehem and Hebron) and the rest of the provinces.

Since the start of the war, Israel has imposed a strict siege on cities and towns in the West Bank, cutting off their lifelines. Travel across settlement bypass roads is unsafe, with reports of killing and abuse at the hands of Israeli soldiers and settlers.

Paralyzing cities

Since the start of the war on Gaza, Israel has imposed a strict siege on cities and towns in the West Bank, cutting off their lifelines, and completely or partially shutting access using cement, iron gates, and other barriers. Each region has been isolated from its surroundings, making it difficult for citizens (employees, students, patients and others) to move between provinces.

Travel across the settlement bypass roads is not safe, with reports emerging of killing and abuse at the hands of Israeli soldiers and settlers.

Even movement within provinces has become dangerous. Aysar al-Barghouthi, a 40-year-old government employee living in the village of Aboud, in the Ramallah and al-Bireh governorate, tells Raseef22, “At the start of the war, occupation forces closed the entrance to our village with an iron gate.” The alternative routes are not only dangerous, but require a two hour commute for al-Barghouthi to reach his workplace in Ramallah. In addition to this, there is a daily transport fee of at least 50 shekels. Between road closures, the dangerous journey and daily transport fee, al-Barghouthi has been unable to attend work.

In order to be able to access healthcare in Ramallah, al-Barghouthi’s pregnant wife has had to stay with family in the city on more than one occasion. Employees at his local health center have been unable to access the health center. As a result, al-Barghouthi had to buy medication for his chronic illnesses from the pharmacy.

Hamza al-Sayouri from Hebron recounts a similar story. Since the beginning of the war, he has been unable to attend work at the local radio station in Yatta, in the southern governorate of Hebron. He explains that “the risk of using any bypass road is high, due to checkpoints and settler harassment. Since the war began, I have not been able to attend my job, which effectively means I will lose my job.”

The lack of economic activity has brought the West Bank “to a halt". Between road closures, the dangerous journey due to occupation forces and settler violence, and daily transport fees, many have been unable to attend work

As a result of these strict measures and the subsequent transformation of West Bank provinces into open-air prisons, Hani al-Masri, a 69-year-old journalist from Nablus residing in Ramallah, decided postpone a medical appointment in Jordan. He explains, “For me, the risk of passage and travel between provinces is greater than the benefit of my visit to the doctor in Jordan.’

The impact of closures has not only disabled access and employment, it has also affected the economic situation. Hamza Hassoun, a merchant from the village of Beit Amrin in the Nablus governorate, has been working in sofa upholstery for 13 years. He notes a significant decline in his sales. “Customers' checks are frequently returned due to financial conditions, which were already declining before the war. Our sales were mainly based on selling with checks. Now, we are forced to rely solely on cash sales, although that is not a solution because people generally do not have the ability to pay in cash. This has led to the near-total cessation of my business.”

The decline in purchasing power has prompted some companies to try to adapt to the current situation. Sales supervisor Saheb Al-Ali, a 40-year-old from Nablus explains, “Since access to Nablus is almost closed, we have been forced to rearrange our representatives according to their residential area.”

The agricultural sector

Abbas Malham, Executive Director of the Palestinian Farmers' Union, confirms that the agricultural sector is one of the most affected sectors by the separation between provinces and the current prevention of regional movement, which coincides with the olive harvest season, the most important and significant period for farmers. Malhas explains, “We have more than 110,000 agricultural families in Palestine who entirely or partially depend on olive and olive oil production. About 50,000 agricultural families make a living by sharing the landowner's crop through harvesting in exchange for a share or percentage. This means that between 500,000 to 600,000 Palestinians directly or indirectly make a living from the olive harvest season. Not to mention those who benefit from it through labor, whether through packaging, exporting, marketing, or benefiting wholesale and retail traders.”

This year, half of the farmers in the West Bank who entirely or partially depend on olive and olive oil production, will not be able to harvest the olives on their agricultural lands due to restriction of movement and repeated settler violence.

According to Malham, “Even within a village, a farmer's access to his land has become a major challenge, especially after the settler attacks intensified under the protection and cover of the Israeli occupation forces.” Malham estimates that half of the farmers in the West Bank will not be able to harvest the olives on their agricultural lands due to restriction of movement and repeated settler violence.

Economic impact

Dr. Nasr Abdel Karim, an economic expert and professor at the Arab American University, confirms that due to a lack of commercial activity, merchants and employees are losing their jobs.

Abdeel Karim points out that “there are estimates suggesting that 390,000 workers lost their jobs in the West Bank.” The lack of income “adds a new level of suffering to many families in the West Bank, especially as they were working, spending, consuming, and living day by day.” According to him, estimates indicate that poverty rates will increase by about 10%, from 26% to 36%.

Abdel Karim concludes his remarks by discussing the impact on the Palestinian Authority's treasury, emphasizing the link between taxes and goods and services. The disruption to government services has led to a practical decline in fees. “This is accompanied by a halt in exchanges, the government's inability to pay employee salaries, adding a new liquidity crisis to the economy. The government does not have many options to face the current issues, so it remains silent.”

“At the start of the war, occupation forces closed the entrance to our village with an iron gate. Even movement within provinces has become dangerous. The alternative routes are not only dangerous, but also take much longer"

Here, exchange refers to tax revenues, fees, and customs imposed on goods imported into Palestine, either through Israel and the crossings or borders, as per the Oslo Agreement. Israel collects taxes on behalf of the Palestinian Authority before transferring them to the latter.

The Labor Ministry without workers

Dr. Azmi Abdul Rahman, Director-General of Labor Sector Policies at the Ministry of Labor, explains that the number of Palestinian workers working inside the Green Line before the war was about 200,000 (35,000 of which were from Gaza Strip). Under normal circumstances, 95,000 workers join the labor market in the West Bank annually.

The lack of economic activity has brought the West Bank “to a halt.” The subsequent mass layoffs have prompted a flood of complaints from employees. Dr. Abdul Rahman explains, “We receive complaints and calls from workers.. Accordingly, we have issued an official statement warning against infringing on any workers' rights, laying them off, or dismissing them. Doing so is considered arbitrary dismissal and a violation of laws and regulations.”

However, there is no clear solution to tackle the current problems. “Every ministry is putting response plans in place to cope with the current situation. Addressing the significant disruption left by the ongoing war can only be done after its conclusion,” Dr. Abdul Rahman points out.

In a report issued on November 12, the Ministry of National Economy stated that 94.8% of economic establishments in the West Bank are facing difficulties in transportation and distributing goods between provinces. It indicated a decline in performance for 94.4% of establishments due to a decrease in citizens' purchasing movements. Furthermore, 69.6% of industrial establishments are operating below their usual production capacity.

“Even within a village, a farmer's access to his land has become a major challenge, especially after the settler attacks intensified under the protection and cover of the Israeli occupation forces”

The United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) released an assessment on November 8 titled 'Gaza War: Expected Social and Economic Impacts on the State of Palestine.' It found that by the end of the first month of the war, 24% of job opportunities in the West Bank were lost.

The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics issued a statement last month indicating that “the continuation of the war and its repercussions on the West Bank's economy will lead to a decline in the Palestinian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2023, estimated at $500 million, or 3% compared to 2022.”



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