Gaza Merchants Humiliated, Bankrupt

Gaza merchants and producers, the last bedrock of the collapsing economy of the impoverished coastal territory, are decrying the humiliating way Israel is dealing with them, with many forced to close onetime lucrative businesses because of the crippling I

Gaza Merchants Humiliated, Bankrupt

Gaza merchants and producers, the last bedrock of the collapsing economy of the impoverished coastal territory, are decrying the humiliating way Israel is dealing with them, with many forced to close onetime lucrative businesses because of the crippling Israeli blockade.

"They are dealing with us like animals," merchant Baker Abu Maamar told Reuters on Tuesday, August 7.

Since Hamas took over the strip in June, Israeli authorities shut the main commercial crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel, citing security concerns.

Israel also forbids sea traffic in and out and Israel has closed all crossings between Gaza and Egypt.

There are no airports in Gaza.

Israeli authorities only allow Gaza merchants to pick their paid-in-advance merchandise house after being literally dumped by Israel trucks on the frontier.

Palestinians race to the checkpoint to salvage food, vegetables and other perishable products and take the unspoiled items to the Gaza market.

"They dump the goods and leave as if they are telling the Palestinians: 'Here is your food, eat it, sell it, do whatever you want with it'," said Abu Maamar.

The time that elapses between drop-off and pick-up also raises the risk of the merchandise being stolen.

"I lose thousands of shekels every time," said Mohammad Attaweel, while picking up and brushing off an order of peaches.

Israeli officials said Gazans must be thankful because they allowed such deliveries to take place.

Raw Materials

Palestinian merchants and producers complain that Israel is not even allowing them to get the basic raw materials like chocolate and milk, which are key for the ice cream industry, and the fizz key for soft drinks.

"This should be the best time of our year," Mazen Masri, who owns the famous Al-Arusa ice-cream factory, told The Christian Science Monitor.

"But I go into the factory and my heart almost breaks."

Since June, Masri has laid off 150 employees – more than half of his workforce – and has cut production by 80 percent.

Although sales were about 10 million shekels ($2.5 million) last year, he believes he would be "lucky to hit 2 million" this year.

The Yazjo Group for Soft Drinks, which has produced Seven-Up and Pepsi in Gaza since 1962, can no longer operate because it has had the fizz taken out of its business as it cannot get CO2 via Israel.

"No one wants flat, sweet water," Amar Yazjo, the son of the company's founder, told the Science Monitor.

He has laid off 150 workers so far and estimates losses at nearly $10,000 a day.

Michael Williams, a UN coordinator, told the Security Council last week that 75 percent of factories have closed due to the Israeli blockade.

According to the World Bank, 68,000 jobs have been lost since June in the impoverished Strip, which is home to 1.5 million people.

The UN warned last month that the Strip's economy would collapse if its crossings continue to be closed by Israel, leaving nearly one million living on handouts.

Killing Peace

By imposing a crippling economic blockade on the Gaza Strip, Israel hopes to turn the population against Hamas.

"We appeal to the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority, but they're not interested," said Yazjo.

"It seems to me their plan is to keep us at survival level. Now, 80 percent of us rely on aid. I think they'll be happy when that is 100 percent."

If past is any indication, added the owner of the soft drink factory, peace with Israel has proved elusive.

"I want peace with Israel, but all we've experienced since Oslo [the 1993 peace accords between Israel and the PA] is constant deterioration," Yazjo said.

"I think what Israel doesn't understand is that what creates Fatah, what creates Hamas, is the occupation and situations like the one we're in now."

Akram Mushtaha, a recently laid off Al-Arusa employee, said the Israeli policy is to adding insult to injury.

"They want Hamas to change? They want Fatah to change? Well, they aren't punishing them. They're punishing me."

Mushtaha, like the majority of Gazans, is struggling to make ends meet.

His wife has sold all her jewelry and he is now desperately seeking a loan to cover school fees for his five children.

"I try to think about the politics of all this, but it makes no sense to me," said Mushtaha.

"Our ice cream business has become a threat to Israel? It wasn't a threat before?"

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Last Mod: 08 Ağustos 2007, 11:11
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