Al Mezan Center held today, 15 August 2007, a workshop on the economic situation in the Gaza Strip.
It took place at the Al Quds International Hotel in Gaza City.
Lawyer Adnan Hajjar, Coordinator of the Technical Assistance and Advocacy Unit at Al Mezan, inaugurated the workshop with remarks on the main economic indicators and the impacts of the current economic setback on Palestinians' life, and particularly on the human rights situation in the Gaza Strip.
Generally, the conditions of economic, social, and cultural rights have witnessed a serious deterioration under worsening security conditions, continued closure, international and Israeli sanctions, and the recently increased political and administrative separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
Economic expert, Dr.
Sami Abu Zarifa, who spoke in the first venue, said that the current critical economic conditions require a vision for the future that would help face the serious challenges that undermine the Palestinian economy.
He added that the past years had witnessed unprecedented economic setback.
In the aftermath of the recent take over of Gaza by Hamas, the economic indicators saw a further serious low.
He indicated that the gross domestic product (GDP) has declined by 40%.
The unemployment rate has reached approximately 50%.
He added that about 90% Gazans have become dependent on humanitarian aids.
He also cited UN agencies which determined that to meet the minimal needs of foodstuffs and other basic goods, the Gaza Strip needs 900 truck loads weekly, at least.
Israel has allowed for the entry of approximately 150 on average.
Abu Zarifa said that social solidarity has been the main means of coping which has helped Gazans cope with the severe hardship.
He called on Hamas to take steps to restore the situation as it was prior to its taking over of Gaza by force.
He said this would create a positive atmosphere to launch a national dialogue.
Activist businessman Mr Ali Abu Shahla also spoke.
He said that the causes of the crisis faced by Gaza's population are mainly of a political nature.
He affirmed that it was impossible to bring the paralyzed economy out of its impasse without resolving the internal political conflict between the parties, or the larger conflict with Israel's occupation.
He focused on the serious damages inflicted upon the private sector and made it at the verge of collapse.
He mentioned that over 80% of factories in Gaza have already closed; over 65,000 workers have consequently lost their jobs as of June 2007.
The losses of the construction sector have reached $220 million as international organizations, such as the UNRWA, had to suspend many important projects owing to the Israeli closure.
He also stressed that the private sector has frequently been proactive by proposing credible initiatives aiming to resolve the problems between Fatah and Hamas in an attempt to overcome the economic and political crisis.
Regrettably, those did not see success.
He finally warned that the collapse of the economic situation would result in a state of full chaos and would push the depressed Gazans to extremism.
Former minister of economy, Mr.
Ala'a Ad-Din Al A'araj, said that the economic crisis was mainly caused by Israel's policies and the unjust economic agreements between Israel and the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Israel.
He stressed that the current crisis was not a direct outcome of the last two months of Hamas' control of Gaza, but was a result of the continued Israeli closure and sanctions, which had existed long before June but been intensified recently.
He stressed the need and the necessity of the national dialogue and held all the Palestinian parties responsible for the current situation, emphasizing that foreign pressure must not be allowed to out-rule internal dialogue.
He called on the Arab countries to support the Palestinian economy, including the private sector, which constitutes over 65% of the national income, and to help open the Gaza's crossings.
In the end, the participants raised questions and presented many arguments focusing on the responsibility of Palestinian factions and Israeli government's actions that have caused such human suffering in Gaza.
They also asserted the linkage between development and freedom and human rights and called for respect and protection of these rights.