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Observations of a week in Palestine

June 16, 2011

If you were to visit Nablus for a short time, you could be forgiven for forgetting about the illegal settlements, the checkpoints and the oppressive security you had dealt with and seen on your way here and having a feeling that things within the city have a sense of normality to it. To wander the streets of Nablus, eat and drink in its countless amounts of cafe’s and to shop in its vast markets, you get the sense that the people of the city go to work as they would anywhere and that the students attend classes and attend grand graduation ceremonies as they do in many cities around the world. This phenomenon can be attributed to the small amount of economic prosperity the Palestinian authority has been able to afford to the city, as a result of the easing of the checkpoints in 2008. During the intifada the world bank estimates the blockade of the city cost the local economy somewhere in the region of $361m, however local sources such as the Nablus Chamber of Commerce estimate the cost at nearer $1bn, with huge losses to agriculture, the cities market (the largest in the region before the intifada) suffering severe losses to trade, a loss in tourism revenue of around 99%, unemployment up to 42%, 1505 business establishments destroyed by Israeli military strikes and 645 people killed. The Nablus Chamber of Commerce estimates the economic cost to the city at $1.2m daily during the intifada. However with the easing of the blockade, trade goods are once again flowing into the city and have been doing so for the last 3 years, commodities can be afforded due to an increase in employment and a huge amount of investment from international aid has allowed the local government to fund building projects and help promote Palestinian Industry. A sense of prosperity and a bright future could easily be envisaged by those visiting the city.

However, dig a little deeper and only a little digging is needed and the true reality that faces the people of Nablus city and the rest of Palestinian territories can be realised. The building projects, funded by the government are halted repeatedly due to disputes over pay (workers not being paid for weeks on end); with one factor among many for this being attributed to the Israeli government freezing Palestinian tax revenue due to the reconciliation of the Fatah and Hamas political parties. People in the city continue to have severe restrictions of their movement imposed upon them, with access to Israel being denied unless work permits are issued, with an application for such a permit often taking months at a time to acquire and hassle, assaults, interrogation, arrest and denial of access often facing those who even have the paper work to cross into Israeli territory to earn a living. Those who wish to cross the border into Jordan as well face the same hardships in attempting to pass Israeli security as they would trying to enter Israel. The Palestinian authority it would seem, from discussions with locals, survives economically on a month to month basis founding its budgets upon the aid from the international community, aid that at any point, for any reason may or may not be retracted.

Civil liberties would also seem to still be a precious commodity, with night time Israeli military raids into the old city taking place on a regular basis under the cover of darkness to arrest on mass, mostly the young males of the city. A disturbingly large quantity of locals I have spoken with already in my one week here have disclosed that either they, or people they know have been arrested by either the Israeli military or the local Palestinian police and often later released without charge. The brutality of such places these people are held in can only be imagined. The vast majority of military presence around Nablus is found within the illegal settlements that surround the city and the nearby villages. It is in these Palestinian villages that I have been informed that much of the injustices of the Palestinian people can be witnessed, as they suffer the direct effects from the illegal settlements that are imposed on the hilltops of their communities. Nevertheless, the Israeli military mite can still be felt within the city itself, with only today a passing of a military jet over head being accompanied by the distinguishing sound of an explosion. In my ignorance I was under the impression that an ‘air to ground strike’ had taken place, very close to where I live within the city, however I was informed later by a local that these explosion sounds are all too common but that he did not fully understand in what capacity they were carried out. His understanding was that the explosions where taking place in the air and that they were dispersing ‘something’ above the city. I am not a military expert and have no idea whether this could be true or not and me and a friend discussed with the local the possible scenario that these explosions could be some sort of training exercise?  Regardless however, the direct or indirect effect of such events can be seen to add to the ever growing feeling within me that the economic and social prosperity of the residents of this city and the rest of the Palestinian territories are very much vulnerable to not just the actions of the Israeli authorities but also the international community. The proud, resourceful and generous people of this region have the ability and want to prosper and the progress made within the territories (with little resources) over the last 3 years shows that, however much must be done in order for the future of the Palestinian people to be determined not by the occupying military forces and the international community that supports it, but by themselves.

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