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Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Economic boycott of Israel may be Gaza's final hope

The grassroots Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement responds to the stifling Gaza blockade by taking aim at Israel's economy

Hannah Porter, Friday 29 Jan 2016
Palestinian woman holds her daughter as she walks past the ruins of houses, that witnesses said were destroyed by Israeli shelling during a 50-day war last summer, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip July 2, 2015. (File Photo: Reuters)
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Views: 3939

Last September marked the 10-year anniversary of the ostensible end of Gaza’s 38-year occupation. Following Israel’s "unilateral disengagement" in 2005, aspirations for greater independence for Gaza were swiftly crushed by a blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt after Hamas’s election in 2006. 

The blockade, of course, remains in place today and has had profound social and economic ramifications for the 1.8 million Palestinians living in what is frequently described as the world’s largest open-air prison.

Out of Gaza's five border crossings, four of them are controlled by Israel. In the rare event that any of these crossings are opened, only a select few Gazans are allowed to travel, despite a provision in the Oslo Accords which requires Israel to allow the safe passage of Gazans to the West Bank.

The movement of Gaza’s population is heavily restricted and the exclave’s airspace, maritime areas, and monetary market are controlled by Israel. Gaza is deprived of everything from the essential (fuel, medical supplies, building materials) to the absurd (the sale of processed hummus, baby wipes, and blankets was banned for some time before November 2009, meaning that Gaza’s population relied solely on humanitarian organisations to bring them in, although they could still be turned away at the border). 

“The Israeli occupation tries its best to justify its suffocating restrictions by convincing the West that the blockade is necessary to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Hamas in Gaza,” Isra Saleh Al-Namey, a journalist based in Gaza, said in an interview with Ahram Online. “But the siege [is meant] to punish the Palestinians for electing Hamas in the legislative elections.”

Israel’s ongoing blockade and biennial military assaults are responsible for Gaza’s de-development, what the UN describes as “a process by which development is not merely hindered, but reversed.”

Gaza’s unemployment rate is a stagnant 43 percent with no recovery in sight. The World Bank’s May 2015 Economic Monitoring Report on Gaza explains that “the closure of tunnels with Egypt and in particular the 2014 summer war shaved some $460 million off Gaza’s economy, leading to a 14 percent contraction of its GDP.”

The World Bank also reports that Gaza’s economy in the last few years “has been roughly 250 percent worse than that of any relevant comparators.”

“Nothing has progressed since the last war. It is only a matter of deterioration on all fronts,” says Al-Namey. “The reconstruction process is very slow and construction materials are denied in Gaza under a pretext that they might be of dual use.”

Sinai as a last resort

Imports of critically-needed supplies are restricted, with Israel routinely preventing the delivery by land and sea of basic goods, forcing Palestinians in Gaza to rely on a network of smuggling tunnels connecting the strip with Egypt’s Sinai.

According to the UN’s 2015 report on economic developments in the occupied Palestinian territories, the tunnels are “yet another mechanism to respond to the economic blockade of Gaza, [allowing Palestinians] to partially circumvent Israel’s restrictions on the importation of fuel, cement, construction materials, seeds, etc.”

Access to these products is further restricted by Hamas, as the group controls the tunnels and wields the power to select who within the Gaza Strip will have access to essential goods.

With the unregulated flow of goods comes the fear that the tunnels will be used to smuggle weapons and militants, fears the Egyptian government has repeatedly echoed.

To stem the supposed flow of weapons and militant fighters, Egypt’s military has recently dug makeshift canals and flooded them with seawater along the border with Gaza. In doing so, Egypt has plugged up one of Gaza’s last remaining lifelines to the outside world.

In November alone, the Egyptian military declared that it had destroyed 20 tunnels. In October 2014, it announced that it had destroyed 1,813 tunnels since 2011, or what amounts to anywhere between 80-95 percent of the once-existing network.

‘A new type of strategic threat’

Despite the massive blows dealt to Gaza’s economy and infrastructure, Palestine and its supporters have found an increasingly effective way to fight back.

The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, launched in 2005, is inspired by the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa and is described as “an inclusive, nonviolent human rights movement that seeks to hold Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism, and apartheid accountable to international law” through boycott, divestment and sanctions in all fields — academic, cultural, economic, and military.

In interview with Ahram Online, Omar Barghouti, Palestinian human rights activist and co-founder of the BDS movement, emphasised that “the rights of Palestinians cannot be achieved without strong internal resistance and effective external pressure, particularly in the form of BDS.”

“Israel is still getting away with murder, literally, of thousands of innocent Palestinians, including hundreds of children, only because of complicity from the US, EU, and other governments, including Arab regimes,” Barghouti says.

The pressure that is being put on Israel through this global movement should not be underestimated. The efficacy of BDS is made evident by the Israeli government’s repeated condemnations of it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tasked the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs with fighting BDS, while Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has recently characterised the boycott of Israel as a “first-rate strategic threat.”

The 2012-13 report for the Jewish People Policy Institute lamented that, “It took several years for Israel ... to fully grasp that [BDS] was not merely a piece of political theatre that could be ignored, but rather a new type of strategic threat.”

Moody’s credit rating agency has reported that BDS represents a potential threat to the Israeli economy, with a Rand Corporation study predicting that BDS could reduce Israel’s GDP by one to two percent over the next 10 years.

Companies buckle under pressure

Among the major corporations boycotting and divesting from Israel are Veolia, the French transnational company, PFA, the largest private pension and insurance fund in Denmark, and Norwegian insurance giant KLP.

French telecommunications company Orange has taken the first steps to end its licensing agreement with an Israeli company operating in illegal settlements after an intense BDS campaign in Egypt and France.

The list goes on. The Presbyterian Church in the US divested from three companies involved in the occupation while the Gates Foundation divested its entire stake of more than $180 million from security company G4S, which supplies equipment to Israeli prisons.

What’s next for BDS?

“As a decentralised human rights movement,” Barghouti explains, “[BDS] activists anywhere decide what to target and what kind of coalition they can build.”

“In the US, there are a number of strategic partners, such as the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, Jewish Voice for Peace, Friends of Sabeel North America, etc. In Egypt, BDS Egypt is the most important entity doing campaigning.”

Barghouti explains, however, that, “authoritarian and repressive regimes are not the easiest to influence through grassroots campaigns [like BDS].”

His personal view is that any government’s “willful participation in Israel’s medieval siege of Gaza is not just a crime against the Palestinian people; it is a violation of [its] obligations under international law.”

In a year and a half, in June 2017, the Palestinian territories will have witnessed half a century of occupation. In 2020, the UN warns that Gaza, even if spared further military assaults, will be unlivable due to the current blockade and insufficient donor support.

So what do additional years of occupation and blockade hold for Gaza? “It will be unlivable,” answers Barghouti, “We cannot afford to wait.”

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Raymond Habib
04-02-2016 03:12am
Poor journalism
This article was one sided and should have equally expressed Israel's view on the situation.
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Liberty James
04-02-2016 12:05am
Hamas does have options
Hamas should use the billions in aid to rebuild Gaza not buy rockets, build tunnels, etc. That way, Hamas would gain enormous worldwide sympathy that would create intolerable pressure on Israel. Much of the world hates Jews but fears Jihadists [like Hamas] more which allows Israel to say 'look at those crazies in Gaza/PA, destroy us and you're next' Take that away from Israel and Israel would be vulnerable.
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Peter Abelard
03-02-2016 04:18pm
The article says, "baby wipes, and blankets was banned for some time before November 2009". It is an interesting date to pick, because in 2010, all bans on consumer goods/medical supplies were lifted. Israel has one crossing open and around 100-200 trucks pass through it a day. What is banned are weapons and military construction materials. The construction materials ban is a real problem because it results in the obstruction of re-building civilian buildings in Gaza. By the way, the Arab League boycott began right after the creation of Israel. The BDS boycott is exactly the same boycott. So far, that boycott has yielded no progress. After more than 65 years of failure, perhaps another strategy to correct the injustices should be considered.
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Anwar Mustafa
01-02-2016 11:43pm
Egypt is the true tormentor of the people of Gaza
The Zionist chief of the coup in Cairo is the real criminal. At least Israel doesn't starve Palestinians to death. Egypt does.
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M omsri
31-01-2016 12:48am
A little bit of history
After the '67 war the arab league was formed to impose a total economic blockade in Israel. This resulted in the collapse of the economy. Theirs.
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30-01-2016 06:28am
Rea Lity
I advise El Aharam and its readers to look at the map. If they do that, they will discover an amazing discovery. Gaza actually shares a border with, wait for it, Egypt!. So how exactly Israel can blockade Gaza if it doesn't control part of its border? There maybe 2 possible explanations to this odd article: maybe everyone here failed geography, maybe Egypt is doing the same as Israel for the same reason (shhhh, don't mention missiles, tunnels suicide bombers, genocidal ideology...). WHY LET FACTS GET IN THE WAY OF ATTACKING ISRAEL.
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30-01-2016 02:02am
More foolishness
How much more foolishness can the people of Gaza take? "According to the UN’s 2015 report on economic developments in the occupied Palestinian territories, the tunnels are “yet another mechanism to respond to the economic blockade of Gaza, [allowing Palestinians] to partially circumvent Israel’s restrictions on the importation of fuel, cement, construction materials, seeds, etc.” - no mention of the Billions (with a B) stolen by Hamas leaders living on entire hotel floors, the economic problems of Gaza are because of the Salafist Hamas forcing Palestinians to live in poverty.
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04-02-2016 10:16pm
well,12 positive votes are a first time :)
01-02-2016 11:00pm
simple answer steve...
because hamas and the people of gaza are one hand.... :)
01-02-2016 04:48pm
Foolishness, you say?!
What foolishness are you talking about? Of course, people like you, and many other Egyptians reading this, ultimately go and blame Hamas. I am not defending Hamas by any means whatsoever. I am defending, however, the open air prison that is Gaza. I don't care if Hamas live in entire hotel floors like you say. If that's the case, why doesn't Egypt go into Gaza, take out Hamas, and liberate the people of Gaza from them. Take it one step further even. Make Gaza part of Egypt and defend from the real enemy which is Israel! Just a thought!

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