Sunday, November 25, 2012

Economic cost of war (2) – Gaza

 Afternoon Tea in Jerusalem

Initial estimates suggest that Israel’s economy will shrink by 0.2% as a result of the recent fighting with Gaza. Last week, I detailed some of that potential impact. But what of Gaza? How can over 1.5 million people recover from the severe pounding (literally) handed out by Israel?

A recent IMF report detailed that unemployment was still over 30% in the strip of land, locked between the Bedouin of Sinai and Israel. Much of the Gaza economy is supported by external sources, often smuggled in via the tunnel system. A  video from AlJazeera illustrates this very well, filmed shortly after the current fightng had stopped. Palestinian sources imply that 140, maybe two-thirds of all operating tunnels, were destroyed. Not only does this limit the supply of goods, it removes Hamas from a very healthy supply of revenue from permits for these activities.

However, in some ways, these sketchy details highlight a deeper problem. Obtaining reliable and professional figures for Gaza in most fields is consistently difficult. Just one simple example - the number of minors killed in last week’s fighting: It will take an expert to point out that whatever the stat, and even one death is a tragedy too many, Hamas recruits fighters to its ranks from the age of 16. Thus are these deaths to be recorded as military or civilian?

Now consider the on-going poverty in Gaza, which many people take for granted. The same IMF report also mentions that the Gaza economy grew at a “high rate” in early 2012,mainly on account of a booming construction sector that benefits from lifting of some Israeli restrictions on imports and Gaza’s tunnel trade that benefits from easing of restrictions owing to political change in Egypt“.
Statistics from the Israeli press and based on information from military sources confirm this trend. Hamas probably benefits by around US$500 million annually from the tunnel economy. While the GDP per person stands at a paltry US$1,500, it has leapt upwards by 30% since 2010. And the Israeli army has ensured that building materials, food and medica supplies continue to enter Gaza in quantity, even during the fighting.
I have commented in the past how Gaza has seen a new millionaire elite emerge in the past couple of years. New cars, often imported from China, are now common in the area. An interesting item from Eric Cunningham and dated from the beginning of the recent hostilities observed how Gaza has much wealthier base than in previous hostilities.
While thousands of Gazans flocked to the territory’s short but stunning coastline this summer, when relative peace still reigned, the abrupt bang of hammers and whir of power-drills could be heard on almost every corner of the capital, Gaza City.
Sky-scraping apartment complexes, glitzy new shopping malls and extravagant hotel retreats were sprouting up amid the rubble, and unemployment had dropped to 28 percent from a record-high of 45 percent at the height of the blockade.
Cunningham’s piece even displays a picture of the new funfair. Pointedly, he concludes by citing a second IMF analysis, posted this October. Gaza’s economy is set to grow by 7% in 2013 and 6.5% in 2014.
You are left wondering. Why does Hamas and its allies would want to jeopardise this prosperity that benefits for the Palestinians and replace it with an on-going bloody fight with Israel?

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