Keeping Brits Warm and 25 Gazans Employed

Hours of work and lots of taxes have led to the export of one truckload of sweaters out of Gaza. It should only take a few more million to get another truck out.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Senior British diplomats invested supreme efforts in the past year so that one truck could transfer 2,000 sweaters, to be sold in the United Kingdom. The future wearers of these sweaters must, first of all, thank their former prime minister, Tony Blair, who this week will be marking the fifth anniversary of his appointment as the Quartet's special envoy for Middle Eastern affairs.

As part of their job Blair and his team of experts, who are permanently stationed in our country, are doing everything in their power to share with the Israeli experts on terror and economics their astonishing discoveries: that unemployment (34 percent in Gaza ) and poverty (44 percent of Gazans suffer from food insecurity ) harm society, and that without the export of merchandise there is no economic development.

It turns out that Blair and his team have the iron patience of a nation that has dealt for hundreds of years with the comprehension-challenged natives. Five years after Israel imposed the tight siege against Gaza, and two years after it loosened the siege by allowing more goods to get in (by a rare coincidence, that came after the interception of the Mavi Marmara flotilla ), Blair's team still hasn't convinced Israel of the siege's harm. And the government continues to believe that the prohibition against exports from the Strip is the right way to fight the Hamas government, which meanwhile refuses to collapse.

Back to the sweaters: Equally warm thanks are sent from here to Lord Andrew Stone, who visited Gaza in June 2011 and was involved in his own way in bringing together Kamal Ashour, the owner of a sewing factory in Gaza, and the British retailer G.D. Williams & Co. Ltd.

Let's not forget the contribution of the British consul general in Jerusalem, Sir Vincent Fean, and of Her Majesty's minister for international development, Alan Duncan, whose ministry helped to rehabilitate the long-unused sewing plant. The two also helped secure funding to pay for modern equipment and to train tailors to work with the modern machines. It's no wonder than Fean and Duncan warmly welcomed the first shipment of clothes from Gaza to England since 2007.

There is no question that the British sweater wearers will be happy to know that their taxes are paying for so many important hours of work, and that they enabled one truck to make history on May 14, 2012, when it delivered the aforementioned items of clothing from the sewing factory to the Kerem Shalom commercial checkpoint, to the Ashdod Port, and finally, to the British retailer.

Not in his wildest dreams

When James David Williams built that retailer in 1875, he didn't dream that in 2012 the company would have over two millions customers and about 4,000 employees. He certainly could not have imagined that 25 tailors from Gaza, hungry for work, would knit sweaters on their new, modern machines for about 2,000 of his company's customers.

This news is so exciting that not only did the website of Gisha - the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement report on it, but even the Knitting Manufacturers Association in Malaysia reported on it, as surfing the Internet reveals. Not only the Malaysian association, but in June, even a monthly Palestinian economic bulletin published the news, which until then we had not heard about, to our embarrassment.

The following statistics will further emphasize the dramatic nature of the event in May: Last week not a single truck left the Kerem Shalom crossing to bring Palestinian products from Gaza to anywhere outside the Strip. Nevertheless, since the beginning of 2012, the weekly average has certainly been higher than zero: Seven (! ) trucks left the commercial checkpoint with Made in Gaza products for export, as compared to a weekly average of 240 before June 2007, according to the statistics of the UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

These numbers can also be read like this, according to OCHA: Between January and May 2007, 4,769 trucks set out from the Strip crossings, carrying Palestinian products for export. Thanks to the efforts of Blair and others, Israel agreed to allow the exit of 187 trucks in the same time period last year. This year only 134 trucks filled with goods left the Gaza crossing, less than 3 percent of the figure prior to June 2007.

Those rare export trucks contained mainly agricultural produce for Europe. But even those were only sent after the European taxpayers paid for many hours of hard work on the part of their representatives, who had to convince the Israeli terror and economics experts that they need not worry: A few flowers, strawberries and peppers will not endanger world peace.

Ashour, we are told by The Independent correspondent Donald Macintyre, once employed 35-40 tailors who worked in three shifts. Today he employs them in only two shifts, and for only three months at a time. England was not Ashour's preferred destination, writes the British correspondent (whom we envy, because the Israeli authorities do not prevent his entry into the Strip the way they prevent the entry of Israeli journalists ). Ashour, like hundreds of other sewing factory owners in Gaza, preferred to export to the nearby Israeli market, with whose merchants - who also preferred his clothing to Chinese products - he can communicate in Hebrew.

Before the tight siege imposed by Israel on Gaza in 2007, Ashour exported about 6,000 items of clothing to Israel every week, in two trucks. Now merchandise for one of his former Israeli customers is accumulating dust in his warehouses. Incorrigible optimists, both think that the truck to England is a swallow heralding the spring.

Denied entry for 'negative behavior'

A 33-year-old U.S. citizen who had hoped to spend a month in Ramallah with his ill and elderly widower father, was not permitted to do so, because he was unable to prove that his presence in Ramallah would not endanger Israel's security. Nael Jaber, a native of New York and father of five, last visited his father five years ago, and stayed in the West Bank for 45 days, he wrote to Haaretz in an e-mail. His father had moved back to his native city after living in the United States for years.

But, Jaber says, he was detained for about 10 hours at Ben-Gurion Airport on May 21, and questioned at length by men in civilian clothing before being sent back to the United States. He refused to take the hint, though, and tried his luck again on May 30. After waiting for about three hours at the land border crossing with Jordan, he was sent back again. The Interior Ministry told Haaretz that Jaber's entry was denied on the recommendation of the Shin Bet security services.

The Shin Bet responded, "Several investigations were carried out, including face-to-face questioning, as is done regularly with foreigners at the border crossings. As a result of the findings of these investigations, including Mr. Jaber's negative behavior during the questioning, it was not possible to negate a security risk resulting from his entry into Israel. Therefore the recommendation was made to the Interior Ministry's Population, Immigration and Border Authority to deny his entry to Israel for security reasons."

Tony BlairCredit: Reuters
The Karni crossing point.Credit: Alex Levac.

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