Those responsible for the high cost of living in Palestine

Mustafa Barghouti
Wednesday 24 May 2017

Israeli usurpation of land and water have helped create a major economic crisis, which is driving Palestinians into debt

One of the pretexts which were heard in justifying the weak participation of some people in backing the captives' hunger strike or national activities in general is the daily living concerns that preoccupy people's minds.

The majority of the people are struggling to survive in the face of the high cost of living, which is worsening every day.

Despite that, I am persuaded that the struggle for supporting one's family does not hinder the ability to participate in the national action. The proof of this lies in the amount of time that many spend in different activities which are not their daily work.

We must clarify the connection between the rising cost of living and its political causes.

We can divide the causes of the monstrous rising cost of living and the economic crisis into causes; one of them is subjective, related to the Palestinian economic options, and the other is objective and has to do with what an occupation and racial discrimination regime practises against the Palestinian people.

Objectively speaking, the Palestinian people are suffering from a chronic deterioration in their economy due to the occupation policies, which are represented in five main elements.

First: the Zionist usurpation of land and natural resources.

The deprivation of the Palestinian people from the right to build on and invest in more than 70 percent of the West Bank's and Gaza's land has led to a fantastic rise in land prices. Consequently, the prices of houses, commodities and services have risen too.

The value of the land itself is lost, for it is transformed into supporting the Israeli economy and society, especially the settlers.

For instance, the value of the land Israel usurped through annexation and settlement activity from Bethlehem alone (which is one of the smallest areas) is approximately $30 billion, which was utilised in supporting the Israeli building sector.

Second: usurping the water.

The occupation usurped at least 86 percent of the West Bank and Jerusalem's water. The West Bank's water resources amount to 926 million cubic metres, of which Israel usurped 800 million cubic metres.

On water distribution, the Palestinian gets on average 50 cubic metres per person annually while the settlers get 2,400 cubic metres, i.e. 48 times greater than that what a Palestinian gets.

As for besieged Gaza, the water's salinity or pollution is up to 96 percent in underground water. Getting potable water has become expensive and tiring at the same time. Most areas in the West Bank suffer from water cuts in summer for weeks and may be for months in some areas. That is because the occupation government pumps water to the settlements first. 

Third: the disparity in income and price controls.

The average income in Israel is $38,000 annually. This means that the average income of a family made up of four members is $52,000 annually. In the West Bank, the average income per capita does not exceed two thousand dollars annually, while in the Gaza Strip it does not exceed one thousand dollars.

There are Arab countries that have the same rate of income, however, commodity prices are still in proportion with the rate of income. As for Palestine, the state of occupation imposes by force the unified market and unified taxes (the level of VAT is almost the same and it is unacceptable that the difference between its percentages in Israel in comparison with that of the occupied lands exceedes 1.5 percent).

The occupation state also controls borders, imports and exports. Thus, it imposes unified prices. In other words, commodities are sold to Palestinians at the same price as to Israelis, despite the fact that the income of Israelis is about 20 times bigger than that of Palestinians.

The Palestinian pays in proportion 20 times more than the Israeli for the same commodity. What worsens things is that the Palestinian pays twice what the Israeli pays for water and electricity.

Fourth: Improving the economic situation is connected to the freedom of investment, mobility, exportation and importation and the freedom of attracting external investments and cutting taxes in order to encourage economic growth.  

Palestinians are deprived from all the aforementioned due to the occupation and the pathetic and unjust agreements such as the Protocol on Economic Relations signed in Paris and the Oslo Agreement.

We must remember that 70 percent of the tax revenues paid by Palestinians go through the Israeli government, which takes a commission that reaches 3 percent of these taxes' value, and controls the transfer of the funds as it pleases. For it can withhold them totally as it did during the term of the National Unity government, or seize big chunks from it on the pretext of repaying debts it has calculated the way it pleases.

Fifth: Exploiting Palestinian labourers through the disparity in wages or by depriving them from health and educational services and the allocations of social security.

Definitely, exploitation reaches its climax against the labourers who work without permits and constitute about 50 percent of all labourers in Israel and the settlements.

For all the aforementioned, the struggle against the high cost of living and against economic discrimination cannot be separated from the struggle against the occupation and the Israeli racial discrimination system. There will never be economic justice without political freedom and independence from the Israeli exploitation system.

As for the subjective reasons related to Palestinian economic policies-- this needs another article. However, a main issue is the mechanisms of distributing the tax revenues paid by the Palestinians and the dangerous and catastrophic applied policy through which people are drowned by exorbitant loans in order to encourage non-productive consumerist patterns. This has made thousands and maybe millions fall captive to bank loans. They are unable to think of both: ways to repay loans which strangulate them and managing their living conditions from month to month and from salary to salary.

To be continued.

The writer is Secretary-General of the Palestinian National Initiative.




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