ongoing siege of Ramallah by Israeli forces is not
just about removing Yasser Arafat, whom Ariel Sharon
has accused of siding with terrorists, from power.
It is hardly the case that once Arafat is out, Israel
will grant the Palestinians whatever they are asking
for under their new leader. In fact the current siege
is probably much less about "controlling terrorism"
and much more about who will have control over natural
resources like land and water, and also over human
Control over water and land seems to be the key issue.
Ever since the Israelis captured the West Bank and
Gaza in the Six-Day War in 1967, they have strictly
controlled the water resources in the territories
largely because they have become so dependent on Palestinian
water emanating from underground aquifers on the West
West Bank water makes up 30 per cent of the water
in Tel Aviv households and is critical to preserving
the pressure balance that keeps the salt water of
the Mediterranean from invading the coastal aquifers.
50 per cent or more of the water that Israel uses
is unilaterally appropriated from water that should
fairly go to its Arab neighbours. In Gaza, the Arab
population outnumbers approximately 5,000 Israeli
settlers by more than 170 to 1. Yet, the Israeli population
there enjoys the abundant waters pumped to them while
more than one million Palestinians suffer water shortage
and are obliged to pump each drop of underground water,
polluted by the salty sea waters and the sewage waters.
The Israeli government appropriates almost a quarter
of Gaza water. Even the New York Times used the word
"theft" when in connection with Israel's
appropriation of regional water resources. ("Hurdle
to Peace: Parting the Mideast's Waters" by Alan
Cowell; NYT, 10.10.1993 p. 1).
Israel has rarely permitted any new drilling of agricultural
wells for water for the Palestinians in the territories
and has permitted fewer than a dozen for domestic
use. Moreover, the Israelis charge the Palestinians
fees that are three times higher what they charge
Israelis for water for domestic use (with even higher
relative charges in Gaza). In terms of relative GNP
per capita, Palestinians pay a minimum of fifteen
times more than Israeli consumers.
Israeli farmers have thrived at the expense of their
Palestinian counterparts. While Israel has ‘greened
the desert’ with citrus orchards, vines and
Mediterranean fruits and vegetables, Palestinian farmers
have seen their access to water supplies, technology
and marketing increasingly being controlled, and land
sometimes being expropriated without even any compensation.
Since 1967, Israel has confiscated almost 750,000
acres of land from the 1.5 million acres comprising
the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The fresh produce of Palestinian farmers often rots
in warehouses because the export permits do not arrive
in time or there are restrictions on movements because
of security considerations. A few years ago, the European
Union became so incensed with the then Israeli government's
obfuscation policy in stalling Palestinian agricultural
export access to the European market, that it threatened
sanctions against Israeli agricultural exports to
the EU. The impediments put by Israel in the way of
economic growth of Palestine, by restricting direct
Palestinian trade with the rest of the world, have
led to increasing dependence of Palestinians on Israel.
Palestinian exports to Israel now exceed 80% of the
overall Palestinian exports. Similarly the share of
Palestinian imports from Israel is 90% of the overall
Palestinian imports, making the West Bank and Gaza
Strip the second largest market for the Israeli products
after the United States.
On the other side, Israel has opened its labour market
to the Palestinian workers to exploit their low wages,
and control the sources of their livelihood. This
enabled Israel to use Palestinian workers as a political
card to put pressure on the Palestinian people and
its political leadership, the Palestinian Liberation
Organization. The percentage of the Palestinian labour
working in Israel fluctuates and sometimes reaches
as much as 40 per cent of the Palestinian labour force.
However, while the Israeli policies have led to reduction
of job opportunities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip
which has forced huge numbers of Palestinians to work
in the Israeli market, since 1993 Israel put restrictions
on the Palestinian employment in Israel which consequently
led to the fluctuation of the number of Palestinian
workers in Israel. To add to the miseries of Arab
workers looking for jobs in the region, the Israeli
government ratified a decision on February 17, 2002
to bring in 6,000 workers from Thailand to work in
In addition to all this, Israel has refused to hand
over taxes collected on behalf of the Palestinian
Authority. The Sharon government also gets billions
of dollars as a "stipend" from the US
to take care of its war expenses. As a consequent
it pays Israel economically to go to war, with peace
simply not being profitable enough.
While Israel thrives on its war with Palestine, the
Palestinian economy is in shambles. The World Bank
estimates the direct physical destruction of Palestine's
public infrastructure by Israel at US $ 600-800 million.
The Bank believes most of the US $ 5 billion of investments
made possible by international donor aid to the Palestinians
over the past eight years has been destroyed. The
siege imposed by Israel on the Palestinian territories
has cost the Palestinian economy about US $ 5 billion
in gross domestic product alone since the eruption
of the Intifada. Unemployment in the West Bank has
gone up to 35 per cent and in Gaza to 50 per cent.
46 per cent of the Palestinians are now below the
The crisis is also taking a heavy toll on social services,
with the Palestinian health care system coming under
severe strain from the increased burden of caring
for thousands of wounded, especially those with debilitating
injuries. At the same time, closures have limited
access to health care services and impeded the flow
of supplies to hospitals.
Education is also hard-hit, with reports indicating
that 190 schools have been temporarily closed, while
1,300 students from Gaza have been unable to reach
their universities in the West Bank.
Only immediate withdrawal by Israeli forces from Palestinian
territory can mark the beginning of the process of
recovery of the Palestinian economy.