Gaza merchants between war and peace

Gaza merchants between war and peace
Comment: Israel's systematic revocation of permits for Gazans wishing to travel through the Erez crossing is having a devastating effect on businesses in Gaza, writes Isra Namey.
6 min read
25 Oct, 2016
Israel has withdrawn long-term permits for 1,400 Palestinian businessmen [Getty]

The amount of merchandise on display at Jalal el-Aiedi's shop is diminishing every day.

 The 49-year-old merchant is no longer able to provide his shop - which sells electrical appliances - with the necessary goods for his business to thrive.

"Each time I apply for an exit permit to traverse Beit Hanoun (Erez) crossing to get what I need in terms of goods, my application is rejected without an explanation or justification," Aiedi told me.

For the past two years, the Gazan businessman would be offered a work permit from the Israeli Authorities to travel freely to Haifa where he bought his supplies.

However, the application process for receiving travel permits this year has proved to be extremely difficult. Growing numbers of Gazan merchants are complaining of systematic arbitrary revocation of their work permits which allow them to make it to the occupied Palestinian Territories to successfully manage their business in Gaza.

Aiedi considers it entirely pointless to continue applying for a permit or requesting a renewed one. He is deeply frustrated over his faltering livelihood which has been profoundly impacted by the suffocating Israeli restrictions imposed on the Palestinians.

"Israel is persistently obstructing our movement via Erez terminal, regardless of the fact that it is the sole passage for those Gazans who have trade and business purposes and want to visit Israel for a limited period," he noted.

The crippled local economy in the besieged Palestinian enclave is already witnessing the damaging consequences of the brutal Israeli policy. More than 400 factories in Gaza do not receive the necessary raw materials, and tens of thousands of workers are feared to have been put out of work if their factories, and had workshops shutdown.

Growing numbers of Gazan merchants are complaining of systematic arbitrary revocation of their work permits

Assailed by a relentless decade-long Israeli blockade, and three major successive military assaults, the Gaza Strip is experiencing a particularly difficult time. Israeli practices have shattered its ability to produce and manufacture, making the long-waited economic recovery nearly impossible for its two million strong population.

The Head of Public Relations and media for the Chamber of Commerce, Maher el-Taba told me that local merchants in Gaza have been subjected to Israeli discrimination, the worst of which has involved reducing their exit permits, since the beginning of the year.

"The permit confiscation takes place on daily basis. Every day we have about 18 trade permits nullified by Israel" he said.

He added that Israel has withdrawn long-term permits for 1,400 Palestinian businessmen from the 3,700 that were issued in the last six years. "Israel has also revoked the permits from notable Gazan merchants who carry the coveted 'BMC' cards that can be valid up for six months and allow for free movement inside the occupied territories," el-Taba noted.

More than 200 local Palestinian companies, al-Taba said, are deprived from having links with companies overseas. No genuine exchange of skills is allowed, and local companies cannot develop its services owing to the ongoing Israeli constraints. 

More than 400 factories in Gaza do not receive the necessary raw materials

The latest severe ban on the movement of businessmen that further reinforced Israel's siege on Gaza, sharply contrasts with several Israeli military commanders calls for easing the blockade and offering Gaza some respite.

The reasoning behind their repeated recommendations, which were seemingly not taken into account by decision-makers in Israel, does not emanate from humanitarian perspective. They believe that partial lifting of the blockade will help maintain the truce and keep the area quiet. For them, Israel needs to manoeuver to keep the situation in Gaza under control so as to avoid future reprisals.

The deteriorating living standards in Gaza, soaring unemployment particularly among the young, and slow-paced reconstruction efforts all lead Palestinians in Gaza to grow more disillusioned with the jubilant victory they had thought would extricate them from their mounting economic and social hardships.

This in return causes Hamas - the Islamic movement that governs Gaza - to consider a possible confrontation with Israel, in order to grab Israeli provisions for the Palestinian people in Gaza. Hamas military success in the last war with Israel was not been capitalised upon to improve living conditions in the beleaguered Gaza Strip. Apparently nothing can push Hamas into keeping the relative calm status more than Israel does.

In recognition of this, it should also be noted that Israel's internal intelligence (Shin Bet) is the system responsible for issuing these struggling merchants with travel permits. Shin Bet works under the command of the Israeli Prime Minister, Binyamin Netanyahu who wants his era to be characterised by the most ruthless Israeli practices to date, regarding Palestinians.

For more and more Palestinians in Gaza, the prospect of a dignified life is beyond reach

Both, Netanyahu and his defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman are careful not to ease the Gaza siege in a manner that convinces the Palestinians of their armed resistance as a sure fire way to better their lives. Effective Israeli control over the strip will be necessary to undermine the Palestinians' bet on their resistance, according to the Israeli standpoint.   

Israeli intelligence used to conduct meticulous searches before issuing the so-called entry permits into Israel. Several Palestinian merchants from Gaza said that they were interrogated before they were allowed to cross the terminal.  

For Mohammed Alian, the analytical view of why Israel is so hostile can never console him. Citing unknown security reasons, his movement via the Erez crossing has been heavily restricted by the Israelis, leaving his business at great risk.

"I seriously think of closing down my shop. I have not been to Israel in the last seven months to provide it with the necessary furniture," Alian said.

He noted that Israel's deliberate attempts to weaken the local economy started by first hampering their ability to produce, which led to an almost complete loss of the manufacturing sector, and now it bars the people of Gaza from importing the goods they need.

The continuing joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade has also placed an absolute ban on Palestinian farmers and manufacturers from export their products to the outside world. Therefore, the domestic market is no longer able to meet the needs of its clients, or offer jobs to large proportions of a despairing population, making the economic outlook highly worrying.

For more and more Palestinians in Gaza, the prospect of a dignified life is beyond reach, and all these devastating Israeli policies continue to take a grave toll on their lives. 

Isra Namey is a freelance writer based in Gaza. Her writings have appeared in the Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss, Al Jazeera, and Middle East Eye.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.