Jerusalem-Westbank-Gaza: Collapsing Palestinian economy prompts World Vision job creation programme

The measures the Israeli army have taken to diminish the chance of terror attacks in Israel have had disastrous consequences on the Palestinian economy. The unemployment rate in the West Bank and Gaza Strip will soon pass 63.3%. Palestinians are being deprived of work and 60% are now living below the poverty line of 2 US dollars a day, according to a recent World Bank report. The number of poor people has tripled in the past 27 months to nearly 2 million and 0.5 million people currently depend on food aid.
"In the past I was able to feed my family and live with dignity. Today, I can barely survive. I can bring no more than one bottle of milk, a couple of cucumbers and tomatoes and one loaf of bread a day," says Khaled, a father of seven, from Hebron. Khaled was involved in the job creation projects that World Vision operated in Bani Naim, east of Hebron.

Had it not been for World Vision, many people like Khaled would have been unemployed for more than two years. Khaled is among a group of 220,000 workers who used to work in Israel before the year 2000. He is a man without a university degree but with a hard labour history in construction.

Dr. Tarairah, a dentist and the Director General of World Vision's main partner in East Hebron, the Bani Naim Charitable Association, explains how many people in East Hebron are selling their furniture, television sets, and cattle in order to provide food for their children. "I know a family who started by selling their sheep. Soon they were forced to start selling part of their living room. Selling stuff was not as difficult, for the parents, as explaining to the children why other people now own their living room," Dr. Tarairah says, fearing what will happen to families when there is nothing left to sell.

Do not move? Restrictions of movement were first imposed in the West Bank and Gaza Strip during the Gulf War in 1991. However, these restrictions became more pervasive and rigid in 1993 when Palestinians were forced to apply for permits from Israeli military authorities in order to travel to Israel, Jerusalem, or move between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. This separated the Palestinian areas, brought isolation and prevented communal continuity. While this affected the Palestinian economy greatly, the stricter bans on movement in October 2002 with travel permits only rarely being issued, forced the economy to deteriorate even faster. It caused a disaster for all the workers and employees, who had to commute in order to reach their jobs. The year 2003 brought new constraints. For security reasons, the Israeli government issued restrictions preventing males under the age of 35 from crossing into Israel and Jerusalem. Today, Palestinians, who are lucky, can get a permit for one day or for a maximum of three months, in exceptional circumstances.

"I do not know how to answer my children anymore when they ask for toys and new clothes. Thanks to World Vision, I worked last year. But it was only for 15 days. Can you believe that I only had 15 working days last year? This is so unjust. What can I tell my children? Till when will I be able to carry this burden?" wonders Khaled.

Jobs and hope A 30-year-old man receiving psychiatric treatment at the Guidance and Training Center, a World Vision partner in Bethlehem, pleads to his psychiatrist "I just want to find work, help me, please. Can't you do anything? Don't you have contacts that can help me? Please."

"Therapy at the Guidance and Training Center (GTC) has turned into attempts to find work for all those who approach us for help. We are trying to help improve the real tragedy here but no one believes that things will change for the better any time soon," says Vivica Hazboun, the Director of GTC.

The "Fifteen Months- Intifada, Closures, and Palestinian Economic Crises" report published by the World Bank stated, that if closures are tightened further, the current Palestinian Authority, community and donating efforts will not suffice, and the economy will unravel. This makes providing emergency assistance of utmost importance. Help is needed now as Palestinians are not only being prevented from reaching work, but they are further losing hope that a change towards the better will occur soon.

World Vision has been implementing job creation projects in its Area Developments Programs as an answer to the crisis. The goal is to help Palestinians earn enough money to buy food as well as to see children enjoy rehabilitated schools, roads and playgrounds. These projects have proved to be a great success. The beneficiaries are not only the workers, but also the women and children who make use of the improved infrastructure. For example, the East Hebron program provided 1,414 working days to 312 workers. Children in the Bani Naim Primary Girl's School benefited from new classrooms, and more children and women can now go to the new child and women social centre. Overall, 30,500 people in the East Hebron Area have access to better facilities and infrastructure through the park and agriculture road projects.

World Vision is ready to multiply the success it had in the East Hebron area to its other area development programs, such as the West Bethlehem one, which lies 10 km from Bethlehem town. This area covers a cluster of 6 villages with a total of 22,000 people. Job creation projects are vital, as the area is isolated from other towns and it is off limits to West Bank residents. Many people are unemployed as they can no longer travel to their jobs in Israel and Jerusalem and they are prevented from reaching other areas in the West Bank.