October 17 marks the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Established by the United Nations (UN) in 1992 after the resolution 47/196 was adopted, this annual event is an opportunity to formulate practical steps to address poverty around the world.
In the case of Palestine, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is a reminder of the immense suffering that Palestinian civilians endure, with much of the population living in abject poverty. However, despite frequent setbacks, Palestinians remain hopeful that the international community—led by the UN—will act in coherence with their obligations to address the manmade humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt), especially Gaza.
On 9 October 1967, the Israeli armed forces imposed a military occupation on East Jerusalem, West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and have been restricting movement between the Palestinian territory, Israel, and the world since. In 1972, a general permit was given to the population to allow movement between the oPt and Israel, only to be revoked in 1990.
In the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities continue with systematic policies of land confiscation, seizure of natural resources, expansion of settlements and construction of the Separation Wall. These activities, that entail house demolitions, displacement, forcible transfer and home takeovers, restriction of movement through the imposition of permit systems and checkpoints, and levying of high taxes on Palestinian commercial activities, have led to widespread poverty within the Palestinian population.
In the Gaza Strip, poverty rates have spiked sharply since September 2007, when the Israeli Security Cabinet declared the Gaza Strip a hostile entity and stepped up the restrictions to a full closure coupled with a naval blockade. An access restricted area (buffer-zone), which is comprised of 17% of Gaza’s total area and 35% of agricultural lands, was declared in 2009. The closure measures that followed include the closure of Gaza’s customs registrars, which de facto limits the movement of people and goods to and from the Gaza Strip. Contrary to international law, restriction of movement has become the norm, while free movement is the exception.
The Israeli military systematically destroyed agricultural, industrial and commercial infrastructure, while restricting imports of materials essential for its development, crippling the Palestinian economy. As a consequence of lost jobs in Israel and in the Palestinian private sector, tens of thousands of families are without income and have become dependent on humanitarian aid.
The closure/blockade of Gaza has served a complementary purpose to military attacks in that, due to restrictions on movement of goods, it has diminished Gaza’s prospects for growth. With restricted possibilities to import and minimum opportunities to export, thousands of industrial and commercial businesses have either stopped operating or have been closed.
A sharp increase of unemployment rates and the number of people living in abject poverty has followed. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) reported that in 2016 the unemployment rate in the Gaza Strip reached 41.7%, while in 2015 unemployment among youth was as high as 69.5%. In PCBS’s latest study on poverty, conducted in 2011, 38.8% of Palestinians in Gaza live below the poverty line, while 21.1% live in abject poverty. After the military attacks in 2012 and 2014 that followed this study, the numbers are expected to have increased substantially.
In 2014, following “Operation Protective Edge”, the World Bank reported that unemployment, which then stood at 43%, was the world’s highest, and that the industrial sector has shrunk by 60%.
On 5 July 2016, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) issued a report that documented the agency’s delivery of food to people in Gaza. In the year 2000, 80,000 refugees were registered to receive food assistance, while in mid-2016 this number rose to 930,000. This means that more than 70% of roughly 1.1 million refugees in Gaza, i.e. more than 50% of the overall population, are dependent on UNRWA’s delivery of food rations.
The internal Palestinian division has further aggravated the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip. The limited access to justice, perpetuated by the existence of two parallel judicial systems, the dichotomy of tax systems with different tax collection methods, and salary cuts to Palestinian Authority employees, have increased financial burdens on Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip.
This year’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty should serve as a reminder that people living in poverty around the world cannot be forgotten. At the same time, it is important to continue supporting the Palestinians whose livelihoods are directly affected by Israel’s restrictive policies. The blockade/closure of Gaza, restrictions on movement of people and goods in all parts of Palestine, destruction of infrastructure, and targeting of natural, industrial and/or commercial resources are all in violation of international law, especially the International Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights calls on the Palestinian government to take serious and immediate steps to provide lasting improvements to the living conditions of people in the Gaza Strip.
Al Mezan also calls on the international community to honor their legal and moral obligations, and to take immediate steps to: