this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr

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Friday, 13 February 2009

carnations for valentines, or the history of throwing oranges into the sea

The story of farmers who have been allowed to export their carnations from Gaza to the Netherlands in time for Valentines is a lot sadder than it seems.

Ha'aretz reports on February 12 that Israel allowed the export of 25,000 carnations to the Netherlands. The word allowed there kind of clues you in to the fact that the farmers themselves do not have much control over the process.

The article then goes on to say that The amount of carnations allowed out of the Gaza Strip was only a fraction of what farmers produce. Many farmers say they have no choice but to feed the crop to sheep. That's a livelihood we're talking about there. The story is also reported here.

Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza after Hamas Islamists wrested control of the territory from President Mahmoud Abbas's secular Fatah faction in 2007. Israel allows in aid, but exports are banned with few exceptions.

B'Tselem, the Israeli human rights watch group, reports on these exports. They can go out the Rafah border, which is the Egyptian border, but as most exports are destined for Israel or Israel's ports, there is not much sense in this. Imports are not allowed into the Rafah border.

They summarise it much better, (also in the report linked below) and in more detail than I can, so here is the following (my emphasis):
Imports and exports: Israel continues to exercise complete control over the movement of goods into the Gaza Strip. The three crossing points designated for this purpose - Karni, Sufa, and Kerem Shalom - are under Israel's sole control. Rafah Crossing, the administration of which was handed over to the Palestinian Authority, has a terminal for the crossing of goods, but according to the November 2005 agreement, the crossing is limited to exports. The importance of the PA's independent ability to export goods via Rafah Crossing is limited, given that most of the exports are intended for Israel or are shipped abroad via Israeli ports. As a result, most exports pass through Karni. Israel's almost complete control of the movement of goods to and from the Gaza Strip has far-reaching consequences: Israel 's decision to close the commercial crossings, a frequent occurrence, paralyzes the Gaza Strip economy and causes a shortage of basic goods, including food and medicines.

Due to the inefficient operation of the Karni crossing, Gaza exporters and merchants are prevented from competing fairly in foreign markets. The delays and frequent disruptions in the passage of goods make it hard for them to plan a production and marketing schedule for their goods, and do not allow them to commit to supply dates. This causes them to lose existing and potential customers. In addition, the delays lead to a great increase in shipping and storage costs of goods, and in some cases goods rot or are damaged before they reach their destination. As a result, import and export industries have been paralyzed, businesses have collapsed and many residents of Gaza have lost their source of employment.

The bottleneck at the Karni crossing stems from the illegitimate and faulty conduct of both Israeli and Palestinian actors. In order to completely release this bottleneck and to enable optimal movement of goods, therefore, conduct on both sides of the crossing must be improved. However, the State of Israel, which as stated above holds effective control of the crossing, has to do everything in its power in order to improve the movement of goods into and out of Gaza , thereby reducing the economic distress of Gaza residents. This is the case even if the faulty operations on the Palestinian side of the crossing are not rectified.

A substantial step in this direction could be made if Israeli authorities would enable operation of an airport or sea port from Gaza , or if they would operate additional land crossings for goods. A significant improvement would also result if the authorities would improve a few grave failures in the way they operate Karni:
Repeated and unnecessary closing of the crossing ・the proper balance between Israel's security needs and the needs of Gaza residents requires abstaining from closing the goods crossing between Gaza and Israel except at those times and places where it is essential to neutralize a security threat.

Convoluted and unnecessary checks carried out at the crossing - Investment in appropriate technologies and adopting more efficient checking procedures would enable much more rapid movement of goods without harming Israeli security interests in any way.

Limited operation of the crossing - Israeli authorities must invest the necessary funds in order to expand the hours of operation of the crossing and the number of personnel employed there.

Corruption and exploitation of the crossing's faulty operation - the authorities responsible for the operation of the crossing must supervise their employees and sub-contractors in a more efficient way in order to reduce the phenomenon of corruption
Women in Gaza preparing carnations. This feelgood (?) picture appeared in Ha'aretz today (13 Mar, 2009, severed from the article linked above, in the online version, anyway. Though, if you clicked on the picture, it took you to the article.

Some of those convoluted and unnecessary checks and procedures include unloading the truck on the Palestinian side, reloading another truck on the Israeli side, and checking all produce by hand, it seems. Scanning technology has been bought by the Palestinians that would avoid this, but it is not used by the Israeli side, therefore goods are bruised and damaged and often mixed with other goods to their detriment. At various checkpoints, goods are often checked more than once, too, which, in the case of fruit, vegetables, flowers and so on, can only lessen their value. There are other methods of technology which could be employed to ensure Israeli safety, such as hermetically sealing the goods once they have been checked, to avoid multiple checking. If you want more information on the points above, B'Tselem has this document Blocked Arteries:Israel's responsibility for Gaza's failing foreign trade. Also, this quick factsheet.

In a 12 May 2008 report in the Guardian,'A disaster for everybody', one of the United Nations representatives in Gaza, John Ging, had this to say on the result of stricter and even more strict (draconian?) border controls:
"The civilian population are not lost to civilisation. They have not given in to violence as the only way," Ging said.

"They are actually struggling to protect themselves against that and they are getting no support. If this were understood - that Gaza is not lost to violence, that Gaza is not hopeless rather that the majority of people in Gaza are civilised - then the whole equation would change," he said

"People respond much more positively to help than they do to force, coercion or violence."
The report goes on to say, as has been detailed by many other human rights groups, that
Israel has significantly reduced the amount of fuel it sells to Gaza and there are now such shortages of diesel and petrol that many cars run on cooking gas or vegetable oil and that many schools can now longer bus their pupils to class.

Israel only allows 2.2m litres of industrial diesel into Gaza for the strip's sole power plant each week, which means it can produce just 45-55mW of electricity, compared to 80mW if it was fully fuelled, and the more than 100mW it was able to produce before the plant's transformers were bombed by Israeli aircraft two years ago. On Saturday, the power plant cut back its output even further, leaving most of Gaza City in darkness for several hours, because not enough fuel had been supplied.

Fuel shortages have affected water systems, leaving the 70,000 people who rely on water from fuel-pumped wells with a precarious supply, and meaning that 60m litres of raw and partially treated sewage are being pumped straight into the sea every day. More than two-thirds of Gaza's 4,000 agricultural water wells rely on fuel-powered pumps, and shortages are leaving crops to die. The World Bank said last month that poverty rates in Gaza were now close to 67% and that economic growth was zero last year.
That was written in May of last year, and even in that time, and before that time, Palestinian amenities were bombed and destroyed, and now that so much of Gaza has been reduced to rubble, including further amenities, the chances of them ever being self-sufficient are certainly slim (Conflict leaves Gaza's agriculture in ruins, New Scientist, 30 Jan, 2009).

Israel controls the water that is available in Gaza and the West Bank. In the case of the West Bank, mostly, through its diversion and use of the Jordan River, and and in Gaza, mostly, at least of 2003, due to Israel stopping the flow of water from Wadi Gaza in Hebron to the Gaza aquifer which results in over-pumping . The wadi used to partially renew the source. Read below. It is over-pumped as a source, too, because wells are destroyed (by Israel) and new wells are not allowed to be built, and Palestinians are not allowed the parts to fix them.
The portion of the Coastal Aquifer underlying Gaza has an annual safe yield of 55 million cubic meters (mcm) but is now being overpumped. The aquifer used to be partially recharged from the Wadi Gaza coming from Hebron but Israel stopped its flow. There are approximately 3,850 wells in the Gaza Strip, pumping 122 mcm of water a year. Mekorot supplies an additional 5 mcm.
For facts at a glance, which mostly look at the West Bank, look at this CESR fact sheet, and for more detail on Gaza, look at page 35 and 36 of this report Thirsting for Justice; Israeli Violations of the Human Right to Water, A Report to the 30th Session of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Center for Economic and Social Rights, May 2003. Really look at it! I doubt very little, regarding access to water, has changed, apart from the fact that the settlers are no longer in Gaza. Rafah wells and houses were regularly being bulldozed and destroyed in other ways as reported in 2003, and that has continued up until today.

From the fact sheet:
After 1967, Israel took control over all water resources in the newly occupied Palestinian territories by a series of military orders that negated all previous and existing settlements of water disputes, set pumping quotas and forbade construction of new wells by Palestinians without permission from the area Israeli military commander. Since 1967, permits have been granted for only 23 new wells.

I am not sure if that number of permits applies to the West Bank only, or if the Guardian article rounded up the number of wells in Gaza. Even so, the water situation in either place is not new, and the above policy (and many others) isn't new; it can't be said it was implemented to collectively punish people for voting Hamas.
Between March and May of 2002 alone, the World Bank, UNDP and USAID estimate that damage to West Bank water supply and sewerage infrastructure by the Israeli military reached US$7 million.
Again, this was before Hamas became government. All people took part in that election. Not just the Palestinians in Gaza. If Hamas were the sole reason for Israel's current blockade and restrictions on Gaza, what were and are their reasons for these punitive actions on all Palestinians before Hamas were even elected?

This is from the larger report:
Researchers from MIT estimate that within 20 years, agriculture will no longer be possible in Gaza due to the salinity of the groundwater. Currently agriculture provides about one-third of Gaza’s GDP and is becoming increasingly important as a means of income and food security for Gazans, many of whom have lost their jobs as wage laborers in Israel due to the intifada. Already the increasing salinity has affected the types of food grown, eliminating most citrus fruit— which are sensitive to saline — in favor of salt-tolerant vegetables and flowers.
That report was 2003, when things were bad, but before the siege and definitely before the latest massacre and effective destruction of much of Gaza's infrastructure. I wonder if the researchers from MIT would now say: within the next 10 years, or less, agriculture will no longer be possible.

Anyway, back to the carnation growers. Apart from water access difficulties, and no guarantee that they will be able to export their crops, and all the extra costs involved in exporting them, which it seems that businessmen and farmers in many other areas in the world do not have to face, there is no guarantee, of course, that they won't get shot while they are picking their flowers.

As reported in Tales to tell blog, and in the news, recently (just after the 'ceasefire' ) a farmer was killed by a bullet to the neck (from Israeli forces) while trying to harvest his parsley crop. A week later, international volunteers accompanied Palestinian farmers and workers trying to get their crops in before they withered (water is not in constant supply), and while there was still some chance they might get a return from their investments by being able to pick them (the crops) in a timely manner. They were fired upon. The international workers, too. It is in the blog. In two entries. There is a clip uploaded to youtube, if you want to see. Follow this link and this one and this one. Ah, what the hell, let's embed the clip, but the stories are at the other links (I have posted them before). The youtube is originally on the In Gaza blog, as is the first link (the two writers are both ISM volunteers).

One more word from B'Tselem:
As a result of the siege, the stocks of imported food products in Gaza are dwindling, driving their prices sky-high, while fruit and vegetables that were intended for export are being sold in Gazan markets at a loss. Many families cannot afford to buy them, however, due to the high poverty rate in Gaza. 80 percent of Gazan households now live below the poverty line, subsisting on less than 2,300 shekels a month for a family of six. Households in deep poverty, living on less than 1,837 shekels a month, currently comprise 66.7 percent of the population. 80 percent of all Gazan families would literally starve without food aid from international agencies.
And this poignant observation from Sara Roy, who wrote for Counterpunch in October 2006 ("79 Percent of Gazan Households are Living in Poverty", The Economy of Gaza) (my emphasis):
In one of many reports and accounts of economic life in the Gaza Strip that I have recently read, I was struck by a description of an old man standing on the beach in Gaza throwing his oranges into the sea. The description leapt out at me because it was this very same scene I myself witnessed some 21 years ago during my very first visit to the territory. It was the summer of 1985 and I was taken on a tour of Gaza by a friend named Alya. As we drove along Gaza's coastal road I saw an elderly Palestinian man standing at the shoreline with some boxes of oranges next to him. I was puzzled by this and asked Alya to stop the car. One by one, the elderly Palestinian took an orange and threw it into the water. His was not an action of playfulness but of pain and regret. His movements were slow and labored as if the weight of each orange was more than he could bear. I asked my friend why he was doing this and she explained that he was prevented from exporting his oranges to Israel and rather than watch them rot in his orchards, the old man chose to cast them into the sea. I have never forgotten this scene and the impact it had on me.

Note: May 1st: An updated report on the water situation. World Bank finds Israel’s water policy hard to swallow. April 28, 2009.

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this cutie was taken by Crazyegg95 in 2005 and is from flickr