by EA Cassie – 6 min read
‘From the military control of imports and exports, to the restrictions on land access and work travel, to the destruction of olive groves, water springs and many other means to livelihood – the Israeli occupation has suffocated the Palestinian economy and led to widespread unemployment. This leaves many Palestinians forced to work in Israel or in Israeli settlements, building away their own futures, with little to no employment rights.’ (EA, Sara)
In its report in October 2019, the UN Conference on Trade and Development repeatedly states that the Israeli occupation of Palestine hinders economic development for the Palestinian people and territory. Israeli control of the movement of goods and people, as well as control of natural resources, make economic growth extremely difficult for Palestinians.
A Palestinian farmer awaits authorisation from the Israeli military to access his farmland
Palestinians living in the West Bank are limited when it comes to economic potential:
(Source UNCTAD 2019, Catalyst 2019, PCBS 2019)
Unemployment rate in…
United Kingdom: 4%
Over one third of Palestinians employed in the private sector are earning less than minimum wage
Palestine: > 35%
United Kingdom: 7%
Women’s participation in the paid workforce
United Kingdom: 72%
‘Israel uses us as a company. They herd us into our open air prison. They make us buy their products. We are cheap labour. We build their settlements; they take our quarries and our water; even the cows in Israel have more water than us.’
Abdullah, South Hebron Hills
Over 25 years after the Oslo Accords were signed – intended to be a temporary measure to last 5 years – Israel retains control of Palestine’s economic borders, leaving Palestinians with limited access to affordable goods and services.
As part of the Oslo Accords, the Paris Protocol (1994) established an economic customs union between Israel and occupied Palestine, as well as a shared external border. The agreement gave Israel sole control over the external borders and collection of import taxes and VAT, and international trade would be conducted through Israeli air and sea ports, or through land border crossings controlled by Israel.
In the agriculture sector for example, Palestinian farmers are not able to import certain fertilisers, which would be more effective. According to the World Bank, this has resulted in ‘lower land productivity in the Palestinian territories, in comparison to Israel, amounting to, on average … only 43 percent of the yield in Israel, per dunum [1000 square meters], despite nearly identical natural environments.’ Palestinian farmers also report difficulty obtaining licences for pesticides and water treatment solutions which means they struggle to grow produce which can meet certain market standards.
Palestinian farmers assess their land before starting their work day. Fawsi (pictured centre) reports that it is frequently too dangerous to farm his fields due to violent attacks from Israeli settlers.
The Palestinian olive harvest is the most important time of year for the Palestinian economy, yet many farmers face access restrictions and destruction of their trees by Israeli soldiers and settlers.
The ongoing occupation, with an economic framework that was intended to be temporary, results in Palestinians today suffering from the restriction of movement of goods and severe limitations on their ability to reach international markets.
Despite the West Bank being rich in resources, many Palestinians have to buy back tankered water from Israel, even when the pipes run through their own land
Additionally, Israel controls all water resources in the West Bank and sells it back to Palestinians through its half nationalised, half private water company Mekorot. The lack of control of water significantly impacts the lives and the livelihoods of Palestinians – especially those whose primary income source is agriculture and/or livestock.
Palestinians who are not working in agriculture or raising livestock often seek employment in Israel or in Israeli settlements located in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. These settlements are illegal under international law, but in some cases provide wages 60% higher than in the domestic labour market (UNCTAD).
In order to work in Israel or in settlements, Palestinians need to obtain a work permit from the Israeli Civil Administration. The work permits are issued to the Israeli employers, so Palestinians are permitted to enter Israel only through this specific employer who has applied for this specific work permit. The employer can revoke the permit at any time, and often Palestinians do not find out that their permit has been revoked until they arrive at the checkpoint crossing, having spent several pre-dawn hours waiting to pass through the checkpoint. According to many human rights NGOs, thousands of Palestinians either pay for illicit permits to cross, or are unable to cross because they have been put on a permit ‘blacklist’.
All checkpoints between the West Bank and Israel are controlled by the Israeli military, and tens of thousands of Palestinians cross the checkpoints each day in order to find work. Palestinians have to queue, often for a number of hours, in order to reach their place of work. Israelis living in the settlements in the West Bank, by comparison, use well maintained settler-only highways without having to stop at the checkpoints on their daily commute. In addition to checkpoints between Israel and the West Bank, UNCTAD reports that ‘within the 5,655 km² total area of the West Bank, 705 permanent obstacles restrict Palestinian vehicles and pedestrian movement, including checkpoints, road gates, earth mounds, roadblocks, trenches and earth walls.’
Palestinians have to queue, often for a number of hours at military checkpoints to travel to work.
A Palestinian farmer in the South Hebron Hills works his land.