By Sammy Barker
According to the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, since the start of the Great March of Return in Gaza on 30 March 2018, 264 Palestinians have been killed and 36,318 have been injured. 44 of those killed were children. Of the wounded, 545 are in a serious condition, and 137 have had limbs amputated. During this period, the British government has continued with normal diplomatic relations with the Israeli government.
Repression in Gaza and the West Bank is not the limit of the Palestinian people’s difficulties. A World Bank report, with a publication date of 30 April 2019, reviews the economic position. It finds that the prospects are “grim”. Growth in the Palestinian territories in 2018 was in total 0.9 per cent, composed of 3 per cent growth in the West Bank and a 7 per cent contraction in Gaza. The report expects future growth at around 1 per cent in coming years. The population growth of Palestine in 2018 was 2.4 per cent. The report says this means “a continuous decline in real per capita income and a further rise in unemployment and poverty”.
The situation is already appalling. Unemployment in the West Bank is 17 per cent, and in Gaza 52 per cent. Decisions of the Israeli government are accelerating this collapse. The Israeli government is withholding tax transfers to the Palestinian Authority (PA). These are what the Israeli government estimates the PA has been paying to families and dependents of martyrs and prisoners. Yet another example of “collective punishment” of the Palestinian people, alongside the demolition of family homes and the siege of Gaza.
In addition, the Israeli government is restricting material for production entering the occupied territories. This it justifies as preventing “dual use” materials being used for military purposes. The Israeli government is using restrictions above and beyond those established by international treaties covering “dual use”. The estimate from the World Bank is that if restrictions were removed for legitimate businesses there would be a cumulative growth for the economy, by 2025, of 6 per cent for the West Bank and 11 per cent for Gaza.
Also of significance for the Palestinian economy is the report of the Office of the Quartet (OQ), involving the US, EU, UN and Russia, dated 30th April 2019. It reveals how the policy of the Israeli government, and the complicity of some Arab regimes, is damaging the infrastructure of Palestinian society.
At present, over 90 per cent of Gaza’s water is unfit for human use. To address this, the Gaza Central Desalination Programme has been initiated by the PA and Hamas administration. Despite the obvious immediate crisis, the OQ report indicates “slow progress”. A number of causes are identified. The ending of USAID programme has resulted in construction being abandoned, uncompleted. Importation of material and approval of projects have been hindered by the Israeli government. Funding has failed to appear from international sponsors.
Further, the whole programme requires an increase in electricity generation in Gaza. Yet there is already a crisis in energy supply. Currently, Gaza is receiving 12 hours of electricity a day. This is up from 5 hours a day last October. This increase is entirely due to the import of diesel from Qatar, an entirely short term solution.
Meanwhile, there is a delay in funding for improving supplies from Egypt. There is no progress in the gas pipeline from Israel. There is no progress in the high voltage line from Israel. A study on solar power has been undertaken, but there is no funding for implementation. There is no funding to upgrade the existing Gaza grid. And the offshore Gaza marine gas field, which has 25 years supply, remains without a sponsor. In short, there is no relief in sight for the energy crisis.
Nor is the suppression and neglect of the infrastructure confined to Gaza. The Israeli government has so far refused to allocate spectrum width for the introduction of 4G telecoms. As a result, there are only 3G operations in the West Bank and 2G operations in Gaza. This is while 5G services are being rolled out in Britain.
The continuing occupation is stealing the Palestinian people’s future. It is patently obvious that the Palestinians require a just peace and self-determination. Instead they are threatened with having the “Deal of the Century” imposed by the US government.
This week there have been reports that the US government intends to publish the “Deal” shortly after Ramadan, perhaps in June. Nothing positive can be expected. Trump’s administration has been tearing up decades of US foreign policy to the benefit of Netanyahu’s government. The deal will surely follow the path already beaten in awarding Jerusalem to Israel, in moving the US Embassy there, and in recognizing the annexation of Syria’s Golan Heights.
It is very likely there will be recognition of existing Israeli settlements and outposts in Palestinian territory. There have been suggestions of tying up the West Bank to permanent relations with Israel and Jordan. Even annexation of what the Israeli government calls “Judea and Samaria” is possible. Palestinian refugees are particularly vulnerable. Instead of the right of return there are suggestions of citizenship there are suggestions of citizenship in neighboring states of Jordan and Lebanon – that would be permanent exile. What is certain is that Palestinians will not accept the submersion of their nation.
The British government continues to practically ignore the dispossession, dispersal and statelessness of the Palestinians. Ambassador Karen Pierce, UK Permanent Representative to the UN, told the UN last December that the British government “looks forward to receiving the US peace plan”. This is blithe to the embarrassment that will follow from it conflicting with British and EU policy. The brass neck of British imperialism is on full display.
For these, and so many other, reasons, it is vital that activists in Britain mobilise for the 11t May demonstration in London. It is organized by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Stop the War Coalition, Friends of Al Aqsa, Palestine Forum in Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain. It is getting good support from the trade unions including Unite, UNISON, NEU, PCS, CWU, RMT, TSSA and ASLEF. Other organisations supporting include CND and Momentum.