In the case of Palestine, the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is a reminder of the immense suffering that Palestinians of low economic status endure. More than half of the population in the Gaza Strip live below the poverty line (53 percent), while the national average stands at 29.2 percent. This economic situation is a direct result of Israel’s campaign of violations of international law that make up its occupation and result in a fragmented and isolated Palestinian territory. The movement restrictions that Palestinians endure exemplify the unlawfulness of Israel’s closure of the Gaza Strip.
In the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Israeli authorities continue to implement the policies of land confiscation, seizure of natural resources, expansion of settlements and construction of the Separation Wall—activities that result in widespread poverty among the population. The policies entail serious economic losses as they lead to house demolitions, displacement, forcible transfer and home takeovers, restriction of movement through the imposition of permit systems and checkpoints, destruction of farmlands through uprooting and burning crops, and levying of high taxes on Palestinian commercial activities.
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. Contrary to international law, restrictions on movement became the norm, while free movement became the exception. An access restricted area (buffer-zone), which is comprised of 17 percent of Gaza’s total area and 35 percent of agricultural lands, was declared in 2009 and hampers the viability of important sectors in Gaza’s economy, such as fishing and agriculture. The measures that form the full closure include the control of Gaza’s customs registrars, which means severe restrictions on the movement of people and goods and therefore major economic losses to Gaza’s most viable sectors, such as industry, construction, food production and tourism. The movement restrictions also meant the loss of jobs for tens of thousands of people who worked outside of Gaza, and thereby accelerated the rise of poverty.
A sharp increase of unemployment rates and the number of people living in abject poverty has been a direct result of the closure measures. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) reported that in the second quarter of 2018 the unemployment rate in the occupied Palestinian territory (oPt) reached 32.4 percent in the labor force. Unemployment in the Gaza Strip reached 53.7 percent, almost three times more than in the West Bank, where unemployment is at 19.1 percent. In terms of gender, women continue to be adversely affected by the economic situation. Female unemployment is at 53.7 percent today compared to a rate of 26.4 percent of their male counterparts. Workers continue to face extremely difficult working conditions, especially when it comes to earned incomes; 32.8 percent of private sector employees receive a salary that is less than the national minimum wage of 1,450 Shekels per month.
UNRWA’s financial crisis, resulting from the United States’ funding cuts to the Agency, has exacerbated the economic suffering of Palestinians. Pressed by this crisis, UNRWA has decreased its humanitarian services, released 125 of its employees, and turned 570,000 more employees into part-time staff to be terminated at the end of the current year. Consequently, more Palestinian families are now threatened with unemployment and poverty.
The internal Palestinian division has 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 and sent thousands of people into poverty.
The cost of living in Gaza means that a family of five with an income of under 700 USD a month would live in poverty and with an income of under 550 USD per month would live in abject poverty. In terms of monthly consumption patterns in 2017, poverty was assessed at 29.2 percent in the oPt, at 13.9 percent in the occupied West Bank, and at 53 percent in the Gaza Strip. Abject poverty stood at 16.8 percent in the oPt, at 5.8 percent in the occupied West Bank, and at 33.8 percent in the Gaza Strip. It is worth noting that about 50 percent of Palestinian families with low economic status rely on relief aid—meaning that humanitarian aid has decreased the poverty rate by 4.5 percent.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights stresses that this year’s International Day for the Eradication of Poverty should serve as a warning that people living in poverty around the world cannot be forgotten nor can the implications of poverty be left without careful consideration of the lack of access to education and healthcare, systems of social exclusion, and food security. 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 the oPt, destruction of lands, and targeting of natural, industrial and/or commercial resources are all in violation of international law, especially the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Al Mezan Center for Human Rights calls on the international community to fulfil its moral and legal obligations to Palestinians by taking serious and immediate steps to provide lasting improvements to the living conditions of people in the oPt. Al Mezan urges members of the international community to:
Al Mezan also calls on the Palestinian government to take prompt actions to provide lasting improvements to the living conditions, social protection standards, and economic growth prospects of people in the Gaza Strip.