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The Israeli Fragmentation of the Palestinian economy

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In the aftermath of the failure of the Camp David negotiations in 2000 and the second Intifada in 2002, Ariel Sharon decided to transform into reality Jabotinsky´s idea of an “Iron Wall of Jewish bayonets” from 1923. An 708 km long wall were constructed, and is still under construction along the 1949 Green (Armistice) Line; most of it built inside the Green Line and on occupied Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza. Israel also tightened the control within the West Bank through the outcome of the Oslo agreement in 1996; with the fragmentation of the West Bank into three areas: A, B and C. Israel did also tighten the internal control over the West Bank through various internal checkpoints and closures. This control and fragmentation has cut off and isolated Palestinian cities and communities, which form area A and B, as islands in an Israeli-controlled area C archipelago. This fragmentation had and still has a severe damaging impact on the Palestinian economy, society as well as political organization and action.

An outcome of the peace process and signing of the Oslo Accord between Israel and PLO in 1995 was the fragmentation of the West Bank into three areas: A, B and C. Within this unique situation, Israel received full military and administrative control over 60 percent of the West Bank, which is area C. The Palestinian Authority gained control over area A which is around 17.7 percent of the West Bank. The rest, which forms area B, Israel took control over the security and the Palestinian Authority the administrative.

This fragmentation of the West Bank was meant to be a transition, where the Palestinian Authority would receive the control over the West Bank and Gaza piece by piece from Israel, in exchange for security guaranties. Instead, Israel tightened the control over the West Bank. Ariel Sharon decided in 2002 to transform into reality Jabotinsky´s idea of an “Iron Wall of Jewish bayonets” from 1923. An 708 km long wall with fences of barbed wire, electronic fence, electric gates, biometric identification devices, checkpoints, watchtowers, guntowers, dirt mounds, trenches, CCTV cameras, and a six to eight meters high concret wall were constructed, and ist still under cunstruction along the 1949 Green Line; most of it, 85 percent, built inside the Green Line and on occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza. The Wall were born out of the Oslo peace process in the 1990s and under the rhetoric and ideology of safeguarding Israel against terror attacks, where the Israeli government used a security discourse, in which Palestinians were framed as irrational terrorists and need to be quarantined.

The fragmentation of the West Bank and the Palestinian population and its freedom of movement were made possible through three cornerstones: the outcome of the Oslo Accord with the fragmentation into three areas, the wall and through internal and external Israeli checkpoints and closures. The external control of the West Bank is made possible through the wall, the Israeli border checkpoints on the West Bank-Israel border, the security area in the Jordan Valley and northern Dead Sea area. The West Bank also lacks its own air- and seaport. The Palestinian population in the West Bank is therefore dependent on Israel when it comes to import and export of goods and to travel abroad. This means that Israel controls the flow of goods and people, who and what comes in and out from the West Bank. Israel controls the West Bank internally and the flow of goods and people between Palestinian controlled towns, communities and areas which forms islands in the Israeli-controlled area C archipelago in the West Bank through various kinds of closures. It could be through closed and restricted roads for Palestinians to travel on (Israeli/settler-only access roads); with different prohibitions and restrictions for the Palestinians to reside, live, obtain work, and build constructions; to policies of land ownership/confiscation and residency registration and move about outside of their municipal jurisdiction; and internal checkpoints.

One main component of the fragmentation of the West Bank are the internal Israeli checkpoints. The Israeli checkpoints are diverse in their material formation, placement, and function. The checkpoint can take the shape of a moving tank or armored vehicle whose soldiers stop to check identification cards, known as “flying checkpoints”; of dug-up road with 1-square-meter cement blocks placed to stop or divert the flow of vehicular traffic; or a 12-meter high control tower from which soldiers communicate with passersby through peepholes; of remote-controlled metal turnstiles that squeeze people through them.

The Israeli checkpoints can be internal, erected in the middle of a Palestinian area or town or on the border between the Palestinian controlled area A and the Israeli controlled area C, to serve to control or prevent Palestinians from moving within their own territories. They can also be external, one the border into Israel. The external once could be run by the military or by a security company; while the internal one is military.

The number and type of checkpoints and barriers are changing all the time; they increase or decrease. And it also depends on how a certain checkpoint or barrier is classified; is a roadblock with occasional military control a checkpoint? In February 2012, there were 98 fixed checkpoints in the West Bank. Fifty-seven are internal checkpoints, which are situated within the West Bank. Forty-one of the fixed checkpoints are the last point before entering Israel, most are located a few kilometers east of the Green Line. According to UN OCHA, between January and May 2012, there were 450 unmanned physical barriers (mounds of dirt, concrete blocks, gates, and roads segments closed to Palestinians traffic); 256 temporary checkpoints erected in the West Bank for a few hours at a time, without permanent infrastructure at those locations (in March 2012, 340 such checkpoints were counted); and in the end of 2011, there were 60 agricultural gates along the wall.

Checkpoints have grown in terms of the Israeli military making its presence there more massive and physically strengthening the checkpoints volume: increasing the number of soldiers; erecting control towers, bunkers, and cement blocks; forming lines; and installing metal turnstiles, razor-barbed wires, and concrete walls. In the beginning, the checkpoint was made up by a temporarily-manned road block; now its physical shape is of security fence, concrete wall, hundreds of CCTV cameras, automatic turnstiles, metal detectors, x-ray machines, full-body-scanners, fingerprint readers, and has 24-hours surveillance.

These components of fragmentation and no-man’s-land have come to embody the imbalance of power between Palestinians and Israel. The checkpoints are not designed to improve the security of Israelis, but rather, to oppress Palestinians. These components don’t separate Israel from Palestinians; rather, they separate Palestinians from Palestinians. The aim is to prevent their freedom of movement and to disrupt their everyday life. For all Palestinians, regardless of class or gender, every aspect of the checkpoint is a collective punishment, an accumulation of stress, humiliation and real physical suffering. The space and place around the checkpoint is a space where the Israeli colonialist project is obvious in all its might and where Palestinians are physically reminded of their dominated position. Checkpoints are a contemporary incarnation of Israel’s denial of the collective and individual rights of Palestinians to a lining space.

The Palestinian economy is today, in general, fragmented into two parts, the West Bank and Gaza economies. Those two economies are prevented by Israel to have any contact or transaction with each other. The two economies show similar economic trends, but are different. Different in the sense that the Gaza economy has a link to Egypt through the tunnels, this makes the Gaza economy less dependent on Israel but more on Egypt. The tunnels emerged in 2007 because of the Israeli blockade against Gaza. The West Bank economy in contrast is more dependent on Israel and foreign aid. Israel controls the boarder around the West Bank and decides who and what comes in and out of the West Bank. The West Bank also lack its own air- and seaport, and is therefore dependent on Israel’s seaports when it comes to import and export of goods, and Jordan when it comes to travel abroad. Gaza has its own air- and seaport, but is denied by Israel to use them.

The population in Gaza is today forbidden to work inside Israel, compared to the Palestinian work force in the West Bank that still can find underpaid seasonal work within the agricultural and construction sector within Israel, although it is difficult to get those jobs because of restrictions and hardship to get a work permit; and these jobs are also becoming fewer. The economic situation in the formal sector within the two economies is severe. The unemployment rates are high. Gaza has an unemployment rate on 28.4 percent and the West Bank on 17.1 percent.

Within the occupied Palestinian territory, men and women ascribes particular roles in the economy, placing men in a dominant role in the public sphere and placing a much greater responsibility on women for managing the domestic sphere. Although, in reality, many constellations of gender relations exist, women’s role in the Palestinian society is secondary to men’s in several key areas.

Today’s economic crises intensify already the distorted nature of the Palestinian labor market in terms of gender segmentation and bias. The informal sector, which has seen stepped up participation, has been unable to make up for the decline of the formal sector. While women’s increased entry into the public sphere may be construed as increased empowerment and opportunity, many might not see it that way. Women’s burdens have actually multiplied because of increasing household responsibilities, bringing with them additional psychological pressure and stress in the household. These difficulties have forced Palestinians to seek employment within the informal sector.

The Palestinian population and economy in the West Bank are today completely hermetically controlled by the Israeli State, both internal and external. Israel controls the economy and the socioeconomic life, were people can live and work, the flow of people and goods, who and what comes in and out of the West Bank. One could say that Palestinians living in the West Bank lives in a tin can where they only can see the sky and not their neighbor. The Palestinian economy is not just simply affected by the Israeli politics of fragmentation of the West Bank; it is also affected by the Israeli internal economic politics and its place in the global world economy.

The Oslo Accord ensured that Palestinian cities and communities, which form area A and B, become cut off and isolated from each other, as islands in an Israeli-controlled area C archipelago, as much from Israel and Jordan as from the rest of world. The West Bank has become more like a Swiss cheese during the last years. Where Israel gets the cheese, which are the soil, the water resources, the archaeological sites; and the Palestinians gets the holes behind the walls. The Palestinian population cannot exit their Swiss cheese holes without the possession of a permit issued by Israeli military authorities. Israel restrict and hindering the free movement of people and goods within the West Bank, between Palestinian communities, and with the outside world and Israel. Israel totally controls the Palestinian population and the Palestinian economy in the West Bank

The Israeli military strategy since the outbreak of the second intifada in 2000 is in fact part of a long-term strategy of spatial demolition and strangulation. The Israeli permit system, the territorial fragmentation of the occupied Palestinian territory under the Oslo Accords, and the expansion of settlements have all contributed to the creation of a disconnected Palestinian population.

This fragmentation and isolation has a major impact on the Palestinian economy, social life, as political organization and action. In economic terms, the fragmentation not only increased transaction costs, but creates a high level of uncertainty and inefficiency that the normal conduct of business becomes extremely difficult and prevents the growth and investment which is necessary to fuel economic stimulation. The fragmentation has disrupted business, commerce and routine social exchange; it raised transport and production costs and severed vital economic links between villages and urban areas. West Bank businessmen have difficulties in obtaining necessary productive inputs from suppliers and in shipping finished goods to market; and Palestinians are likely to be separated from their agricultural lands, irrigation networks and water resources, as well as from West Bank workplaces, schools and health clinics.

The control and isolation of the occupied Palestinian territories has affected men’s and women’s economic participation. Weak employment prospects have led many Palestinians; mostly men; to withdraw from or delay entry into the labor force. At the same time, many women have entered the workforce to make up for the lost income of their unemployed husbands. The loss of jobs within Israel has reduced Palestinian labor force participation, and lower men´s earnings. Household incomes have declined sharply, and as a result all family members are worse off.

The fragmentation of the West Bank has led to the lack of economic opportunities in the formal sector, and forced Palestinians to create and establish new economic activities, to find new ways to earn money, to support their families, and to survive.

This strangulation and fragmentation of the Palestinian population in the West Bank is what several scholars have described as settler colonialism, colonization with ethnic cleansing, colonialism and apartheid; and policies of spatial control as one of “enclavisation”, “bantustanization”, necropolitical models of occupation; or “creeping apartheid”.

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