The world is applauding Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus for applying the folk wisdom that a poor man should be given not a fish but rather a fishing pole. That is, to fight poverty, it is necessary not to feed poor people but rather to let them earn a living. And at the same time, the world is being asked to keep giving the Palestinians fish, because it knows very well that Israel will block any shipment of fishing rods.
More than 1.3 million Palestinians, out of a population of 3.7 million (including the inhabitants of East Jerusalem), were defined as poor in 2005. More than half of them, 820,000, were defined as sunk in "deep poverty." The Palestinian National Commission for Poverty Alleviation has set two poverty lines, on the basis of average consumption expenses: The official poverty line relates to nine categories of goods and services, if the daily expenditure for them is less than $2.40 per capita. The "deep poverty line" relates to just three categories - food, clothing and housing (without medical care, education, or transportation expenses), the expenditure for which is less than $2.00 a day.
In the first half of 2006, the number of Palestinians in a state of "deep poverty" reached 1,069,200, as noted in a detailed United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) report that was published in November, headed "Prolonged Crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territory: Recent Socio-Economic Impacts on Refugees and Non-Refugees." Their number did decline by half toward the end of 2006 because of aid they received and the payment of part of the public sector salaries. One-third of the Palestinian public reported that it had received aid during the second half of 2006: 15.3 percent of the West Bank's inhabitants and 56.9 percent of the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Nearly 78 percent reported that the aid was in the form of food. This is a matter of sums that range between NIS 200 and NIS 489 per family.
On the backdrop of these shocking cumulative reports, last week the UN agencies in partnership with 14 non-governmental organizations embarked on a campaign to raise $453.6 million for emergency humanitarian aid to the Palestinians. This places the Palestinian territories in third place among 13 focal points for aid, all the others of which are in Africa: after Sudan and Congo, and before Somalia and Zimbabwe. Even if the sums are not covered in their entirety, the high ceiling reflects the assessment that the crisis will continue in the coming years. It shows that the international boycott of the Hamas government cannot really work, because the "African" poverty that has been created here is more threatening: from the perspective of health, politics, security and morality.
And above all, the high aid ceiling reflects the depths of the leniency toward Israel, or the absence of the political ability to cause Israel to do one of two things: Either to recognize its obligations as the occupying power under international covenants, and to care for the occupied population, or to desist immediately from its policy of intentional economic strangulation. For years, Israel has been using the weapon of economic strangulation as a means of political pressure. And the tempest this policy has reaped has thus far been that the Palestinians are growing closer to Iran.
Israel is continuing to steal hundreds of thousands of shekels in customs and tax monies that do not belong to it, which it is not transferring to the Palestinian treasury. This is the proximate cause of the deepening of the crisis. The continuing, permanent and historic cause are the limitations on movement Israel imposes, contrary to the repeated promises (particularly to the World Bank and the American State Department) to "ease up": The closing of the Gaza Strip crossing points and the positioning of hundreds of roadblocks and barriers in the West Bank are the factors that make any economic activity a gamble, to the point of bankruptcy and giving up a priori. It is much easier for the Western countries to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to subsidize food that Israel is not allowing the Palestinians to produce and purchase themselves than it is to cause Israel to stop behaving as though it stands above international law.
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