Report finds even in high-tech, travel restrictions slow Gazan business

The report looked at five industries since Hamas took over in 2007: furniture, food processing, agriculture, textile, and information and communications.

April 26, 2015 17:48
3 minute read.

ISRAELI TRUCKS head into the Kerem Shalom crossing point yesterday with goods bound for the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)

Travel restrictions between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are preventing the Gazan industry from expanding, even in the hi-tech realm, according to a report published Sunday.

The report, published by Gisha, an NGO that advocates for increased freedom of movement for Palestinians, looked at five industries in Gaza that have largely fallen apart since Hamas took over in 2007: furniture, food processing, agriculture, textile, and information and communications technology.

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ICT is often considered less vulnerable to physical restrictions than other areas of business.

Companies tout the effectiveness of holding meetings via video-conferencing and delivering digital products online.

But according to the study, in which representatives from each industry were interviewed, Gazans working in the ICT field feel shut out of the West Bank economy.

“The restrictions on travel, for instance, block entrepreneurs from the ICT industry who, contrary to what one might think, cannot make due with a virtual link to with their colleagues and clients alone,” the report said. “They too must have access to the social circles where decisions are made, personal relationships are fostered and business opportunities are identified and cultivated.”

Those ICT workers interviewed in the study believed that the West Bank could comprise 30 percent to 40 percent of their market were restrictions lifted.

Gaza’s economy has been devastated since Hamas came to power and Israel and Egypt imposed closures.

In agricultural produce, for example, Gazan exports to Israel fell from a combined 22,318 truckloads in 2006 and 2007 to zero in all the subsequent years through 2014 combined.

During the same time frame, exports to the West Bank fell from 6,465 truckloads to 574, all of which were in 2014. Agriculture going abroad fell from 12,531 in the two years before the closure to 2,053 in the seven years since.

The need to transfer goods bound for the West Bank through two Israeli checkpoints, which the report called slow and ineffective, added to the difficulty. The cost of shipping one truck’s worth of goods from Gaza to the West Bank, for example, added up to NIS 5,320 because of the checkpoints and the need to use three different trucking companies along the way: one each in Gaza, Israel and the West Bank.

Israel points to Hamas’s control of the Strip as reason for the restrictions, noting that the terrorist group has exploited humanitarian and economic relief to build weapons and military infrastructure.

The report, however, argued that most of the restrictions were extraneous.

“It is clear that while some of the travel restrictions between Gaza and the West Bank arise from legitimate security needs, most of them are arbitrary and, as it is occasionally demonstrated by changes in policy, are easy to remove and require nothing more than political will,” the report said.

Recent steps such as allowing the purchase of Gazan agriculture during the Jewish shmita sabbatical year, when farm land must lie fallow, were positive, according to the report.

But the report noted that the restrictions were not the only problem facing Gazans, who are still recovering from the summer war and have not yet succeeded in reconstructing many of the destroyed or damaged homes.

“Even if all movement restrictions were lifted, these sectors would still face the substantial challenges of readapting to markets, meeting needs that have since been fulfilled by other sources, rebuilding and building networks of relationships in need of repair and development, and redoubling efforts to gain the knowledge and the trust of buyers and investors,” the report said.

The report did not address the direct effects of Hamas’s rule on the economy, or related issues such as its own restrictions, cronyism, patronage, bribery or regulation.

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