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Gaza: breaking the stranglehold of dependence

It is not often that a mainstream British newspaper reports a positive story from Palestine and the Gaza Strip in particular. The respected Financial Times did just this in its edition on 8th November with an article by its correspondent Tobias Buck – 'Hamas sows seed to ease Gaza's reliance on Israel'. The article is a welcome departure from the demeaning and monotonous stereotyping of Palestinians. Buck's article on Gaza presents an unusual uplifting image – of a revolutionary movement committed to independence, development and self-reliance.

For 43 years Israel's illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip has impoverished the Palestinian people and frustrated their struggle for self-determination. Sara Roy in her brilliant work The Gaza Strip: The Political Economy of De-development (1995) dispelled the myth that Israel's occupation has been, as its apologists claim, `benevolent' and `benign'. 'Israel', she wrote, 'has always had malign intentions towards the Palestinians they have occupied since 1967.'

The calculated policy of de-development as described by Roy undermined and weakened the ability of Gaza's economy to grow, which, after decades of occupation, transformed the territory into a client auxiliary of the state of Israel.

Over the years, Israel has stolen the water resources of Gaza, has destroyed Gaza's agricultural land and denied its people every opportunity to realise their full potential. Israel's undeclared aim has always been to make the Occupied Territories an open market for its own produce. Today, it is much worse to render the territory an 'open prison', to use the enlightened words of Britain's Prime Minister, David Cameron.

In August of this year the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OCHA) reported that during the past ten years, the Israeli military has gradually expanded restrictions on access to farmland on the Gaza side of the 1949 'Green Line', and to fishing areas along the coast of the Strip.

The government in Gaza has not, however, been deterred or subdued. Earlier this year The Economist magazine reported the Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza was developing a ten-year plan to wean it off dependence on Israel and make it self-sufficient in food. They have learned to be self-reliant, a key condition for any people aspiring to shake off the yoke of dependency. The Economist noted, for example, that Israel's ban on fertilizers had forced the government in Gaza to replace imported fertilizer with compost made from sewage that otherwise would have been emptied into the sea, turning the Strip into a virtual organic farm.

Now, Minister of Agriculture, Muhammad Al-Agha, says his government has a plan to plant one million fruit trees, which in the long run would allow them to ban the import of fruits. Traditionally, Gazans have produced citrus, vegetables, melons and pumpkins in large quantities. In order to protect local farmers, Al-Agha disclosed, importers will have to buy licenses to import Israeli foodstuffs into Gaza.

The logic is simple he says; "if you can produce your own food, you can make your own political decisions."

There is no doubt that the current blockade has had a devastating impact on the economy and lives of Gazans. The overwhelming majority of its inhabitants are impoverished and unemployment stands at around 49.1%. But, according to The Economist, there is a widely held view that Gaza, even from its far lower starting point, is growing faster than the West Bank, run by the Palestinian Authority (PA). Petrol in Gaza, it notes, costs a third of what it does in Ramallah where Israel supplies it.  Free health care is more widely available in Gaza. And crucially, the web of Israeli checkpoints that still impedes Palestinian movement and commerce in the West Bank is absent in Gaza.

Hamas's success in keeping Gaza's economy and administration going testifies to its resilience. Of course the Israeli blockade has severely restricted their ability to expand, but it is clear that with an end to the siege Gaza can, and will prosper.

One fact emerges from this latest article by the Financial Times; that Israel's deliberate attempt to impoverish the people of Gaza will not diminish their hunger for freedom. They have turned the blockade, which was meant to punish and subjugate them into a vehicle for innovation, self-reliance and defiance. If only for this reason, the blockade must be lifted unconditionally; it serves no other purpose than inflict criminal and unnecessary human suffering.

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