A bleak forecast
I was busy last week assisting a BBC World Service crew here on assignment from London, and working on my own article, pondering the economic impact following disengagment.
The BBC crew wanted to better understand the lives of Palestinians in Gaza, and how they may or may not change after disengagment. I spoke to fisherman, real estate agents, businessmen, politicians, and farmers.
What I heard from them was not promising: as long as the problem of "access" is not resolved, nothing will change for Gazans. In fact, they may only get worse. This according to Salah abdel Shafi, an economic consultant for the PA, and Mohammad Samhouri, the head of the technical committee in charge of withdrawal. One of he major challenges they are facing is planning for the future: in 20 years, Gaza will house some 3 million people, it is predicted.
A big-time Palestinian bussinessman, who co-built the Palestinian airport and flour mills in the '90s, predicts that internal problems may only aggravate the situation. He told me "we have to work within our limits", that government disorganization in combination with a lack of purchasing power and credible investors would prevent Gaza from sudden economic recovery.
We also visited the fisherman's port. I like fisherman, especially those in Gaza. I’ve always seen them as honest, hardworking, and very easy to talk to. The two I spoke with told me how for 4 months, their boats had been docked in harbor, in the face of Israeli restrictions that bar them from reaching the “good” catches; how they were shot at by Israeli navy; splashed with cold water; thrown overboard.
The fishermen can only fish from Dair al-Balah up to the Soodaniya area of Gaza-the entire southern coast is off-limits. One of the fishermen old me he's resorted to using fishing nets that are considered illegal by world fishing organizations, because the holes are small enough to trap even the youngest of fish. The entire Gaza coastline's ecosystem is being set off balance as a result.
Even if and when fishing zones are extended after disengagement, and the sea port (now a cabbage farm) is given the Israeli stamp of approval, they don't think the harassment will let up, or that they will be allowed to export freely.
Real estate agents told me that there will be a surplus of farm land after withdrawal, and manyPalestinians who own land within the settlements will be anxious to sell it quickly, but the purchasing power is simply not there to buy it as it was in the '90s. Besides, if you can't export your tomatoes, hundreds of hectares more of them become worthless.
Interestingly, I learned that the Gaza Strip is the number one producer of Cherry Tomatoes in the world, but that more often than not they are labelled "Israel" in EU markets. This from an EU projects consultant, who is Belgian.
He also told me about a project for a "trench" road they are planning, to connect the WB and Gaza, that will double as a water catchment when it rains (crazy how creative you have to get to overcome Israeli restrictions). As with almost everything having to do with disengagment coordination, the plan has yet to be approved.
He was a bit crude and matter-of-fact in his dialgue, though he did promise me a box of Belgian chocolates. The funniest anecdote of all that he shared with me: Gaza municipalities only have the capacity to treat 20, 000 cubic metres of sewage water. Currently, 35, 000 cubic metres are produced. "Which means that 15, 000 cubic metres of sh** are going directly into the sea each day."
And with that, ladies and gentlemen, I leave you to ponder the future of Gaza after disengagement.