United Nations slams Israel’s brutality in Palestine

Sep 02, 2015 12:00 AM

Israel’s brutal policies towards the Palestinian territories — conflict and economic siege — could make Gaza uninhabitable in five years, said a United Nations report released on Tuesday.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development also said that the number of Jewish settlers in Area C of the West Bank — 61 per cent of the entire territory — had quadrupled since 1994, after the Oslo Accords, to 340,000 — meaning they now outnumber Palestinians there.

“Socioeconomic conditions are at their lowest point since 1967,” the report stated.

Overall, the Palestinian economy entered recession for the first time since 2006 by shrinking 0.4 per cent in 2014, with per capita income falling for the second consecutive year. Unemployment among Palestinians living in the occupied territories grew by three points to reach 30 per cent. The direct effects could be seen in the inability of a third of households to properly feed themselves.

The economic and development crisis in Gaza is much more acute than the West Bank, and the territory will be “uninhabitable by 2020 if current economic trends persist”, the report stated.

Eight years of economic blockade of the Hamas-ruled enclave and three major Israeli military invasions since 2008 have “shattered its ability to export and produce for the domestic market, ravaged its already debilitated infrastructure, left no time for reconstruction and economic recovery.”

Last year’s Israeli military operation displaced 500,000 of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents, destroyed or severely damaged 20,000 homes, power plants, 60 hospitals and health centres, 247 factories and hundreds of shops and businesses. The direct economic toll — not counting deaths and indirect losses — since 2008 is triple Gaza’s GDP. At 44 per cent, unemployment was the highest ever recorded.

A total of 2,200 Palestinians died in last year’s conflict.

Ninety-five per cent of Gaza’s available drinking water, from coastal aquifers, is also unsafe to drink, according to the report. Food insecurity affects 72 per cent of Gazan households, and 868,000 residents relied solely on UN-supplied rations by May 2015, up from 72,000 in 2000.

To secure the interests of the settlers, a large Israeli infrastructure has been erected in the West Bank that takes an economic toll by obstructing the flow of people and goods across the territory and into Gaza. There are now nearly 500 Israeli barriers that include checkpoints, the separation wall, roadblocks and trenches that “unilaterally redefines the borders of the West Bank” and erases the internationally recognised 1967 lines.

The report concludes that the staggering numbers are due primarily to Israeli policies, both through the usurpation of land and resources by settlers but also through the withholding of vital Palestinian tax revenues on imported goods that accounted for three quarters of the Palestinian Authority budget in 2014.

Despite fiscal reforms by the Palestinian Authority, which saw its budget deficit decline between 2013 and 2014, the war in Gaza forced the PA to double its spending in Gaza to cover emergency medical costs and its deficit jump to $1.6 billion. After the war, when the PA applied for membership in the International Criminal Court, Israel cut off the tax payments, and has withheld $700 million this year, the report found, adding that Israel has withheld $3 billion over the past two decades. Further hundreds of millions in interest on these revenues have not been paid by Israel.

Israel also unilaterally adds high interest rates and deducts non-payment from the PA tax revenues for delays or inability to pay for sewage services, water and electricity the territories import from Israeli facilities. “The late payment penalties plus added interest charges unilaterally set by Israel are excessive as they exceed market interest rates,” according to the report.

The report also found that “contrary to claims by some observers”, funds from donor countries and international institutions have been “undermined” primarily by the Israeli occupation and not by mismanagement by the PA. “The burden of humanitarian crises and occupation-related fiscal losses have entrenched and deepened the Palestinian National Authority’s fiscal crisis and diverted donor aid from development to humanitarian interventions,” the report stated.

There is a dire shortfall in donor money that, along with the ongoing blockade of Gaza, has seen not one structure rebuilt from last summer’s invasion as of May. The PA estimated the rebuilding of the territory to pre-war levels — which would only return Gaza to 1967 socioeconomic levels — would require $4 billion. In October at a donor’s conference in Cairo, $5 billion was pledged. However, the report stated, as of mid-May only 27 per cent of those pledged funds had been

The IMF projects a 3 per cent increase in the PA’s budget gap, and the UNCTAD calls for an increase in aid, without which conditions “will become more dire, jeopardizing not only the institutional achievements of the Palestinian National Authority, but the Authority itself, with unpredictable political consequences.”

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