Food Insecurity in the Palestinian Occupied Territories

Suha Aljundi

When Israel occupied the West Bank after the six-day war 1967, it annexed its economy and controlled all the economic activities in the West bank and Gaza. Today, Palestinian Authority takes control over the economy as a result of Oslo agreement in 1993. To support this agreement, USA is giving millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority.
According to the Factbook on the CIA website, the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza rely mainly on foreign aid. After Oslo agreement 1993, donor countries pledged to imbibe the Palestinian economy with financial aid mounting to 3 billion dollars annually. However, economic activity inside the Palestinian territories is limited to small scale enterprises and impeded by obstructions due to the security situation. In general, the territories suffer from high rate unemployment and low rate of development. In general, the Palestinian economy suffer from a number problems embodied by corruption, incontiguous territory, blockade, the barrier wall and check points. Due to corruption of the Palestinian Authority, millions OF dollars given to the PA as a direct foreign aid ended up in personal accounts abroad. (Petras 2007) According to the statistics, Palestinian trade deficit deteriorated from 57 per cent of GDP in 2008 to 59 per cent in 2009.
This makes it difficult for the PA to impose the rule of law and limited the efficiency of the private sector to be competitive. Writing in Global Geopolitics, Bernhard Schell (2010) cites UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development pointing out "Fragmentation and lack of contiguity within the West Bank — including East Jerusalem — and between the West Bank and Gaza Strip not only undermine the efficiency and competitiveness of the Palestinian private sector, they also undermine the authority of the PA (Palestine Authority) and its ability to establish the rule of law, and weaken its ability to efficiently provide public services and goods at normal costs," It is not expected that the economic situation shall improve if the land upon which the Palestinian state is built is not viable. To make matters worse, the building of the barrier wall along 709 km has prevented the Palestinian people from reaching their land and natural resources. This has caused agricultural output to decline.
Since the victory of Hamas in the national elections, Israel besieged Gaza and prevented movement from and into it. Knowing that Gaza is so crowded and in need urgent need for jobs and currency, Israel tried to starve its population as a punishment for electing Hamas, and to push them to overthrow it to get rid of the tragic situation. Commenting on the incident that happened in Um Annasser in Gaza on March 26, 2007 in which tens of Palestinians were drowned in sewer water, Bernhard Schell (2010) says " Israel spends less than 2% on a per capita basis for basic services in the Occupied Territories that it is obligated under international law to provide responsibly than it spends in Israel. The United Nations and Israeli human rights groups have documented Israel's callous lack of responsibility toward the Palestinian civilians under its brutal occupation. "
The economic situation in the Palestinian territories is hindered by several obstructions, and Israel, as an occupying power, is not working to improve it although it is bound by the international law to look after the territories it is occupying. The occasional rocket launching by some Palestinian resistance gave Israel a pretext to impose more impediments on the economical development attempts.
If we consider that food refers to the necessary food substances like proteins, vegetables and carbohydrates, then we can say the situation of food security is alarming in the West Bank and Gaza. According to the estimation of several organizations, about half the population live under the poverty line and do not have sufficient food resources. World Food Organization estimated food insecurity by 26% in the West Bank and 61% in Gaza Strip in 2009. Abject poverty is wide-spread and many children are anemic. Several world organizations conducted wide-scale assessments of the situation and found that more than half the Palestinians live under the line of poverty. The reasons were attributed to blockades, checkpoints and the barrier wall.
FAO in cooperation with the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) undertook an assessment of the food and nutrition situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (WBGS) February through July 2003. The findings were appalling. 30% of the population is under threat of becoming food insecure should current conditions persist. While this situation is extremely worrying, its continuation warns of an impending human catastrophe. This is has been attributed to the frequent closures by the Israeli army that prevent farmers from reaching their farms. The study found the following People's physical access to food and farmers physical access to the inputs and assets to produce food have been severely affected by restrictions on the movement of people and goods and the damages to personal property. The massive loss of jobs, earnings, assets and incomes sharply reduced economic access to food with real per capita income decreasing by half since 1999 and resulting in six out of ten people falling below the US$2.10 per day poverty line. " It should be emphasized that when international organizations make studies like this one, they are neutral and they do not mean to magnify the situation. In fact, the only purpose is to plan how to improve the situation.
It should be noted that when income is low, food mainly consists of flour, oil, sugar, tea, and vegetables. Meat and dairy products are usually beyond the purchase ability of the people as their prices are ten-fold the price of bread, oil and vegetables. So, food security does not refer to the availability of all types of food, but certain types which are available at a low price. The Palestine monitor website states " Many meals consist solely of bread and tea. Cereals and increasingly potatoes, pulses, the cheaper vegetables and fruits form the core of their diet. Though nutrition surveys are not conclusive, they do indicate that childhood malnutrition is a major concern for some groups and that some more widespread nutritional problems are emerging. Micronutrient deficiencies are also a concern, especially in iron, folate, vitamin A, zinc and iodine." So even when most people find bread and tea, they cannot afford to buy more expensive food.
Most analyses hold Israel responsible for food shortage in the West Bank and Gaza Strip due to the frequent curfews and closures. When movement is restricted, farmers cannot reach their farms and work in them. Besides, Israel confiscates land frequently for the expansion in settlement activity. Its tractors razed hundreds of hectares of olive farms to make way for new settlement units.
The FAO report on food security in West Bank and Gaza 2006 concluded that a number of steps have to be taken to alleviate the situation and help people cope with the food crises. The writers of the report recommended a program for employment for the unemployed and another program to help farmers and fishermen and increasing donor assistance to UNRWA to help it meet the growing needs of the people. They also recommended a revitalization program for rural areas to prevent the agricultural sector from collapse.
World Food Organization also launched a program to help destitute families. "To respond to the impact of the global high food price crisis, WFP launched a food voucher emergency operation in April 2009 for some 30,000 beneficiaries in urban areas of the West Bank. Food vouchers allow WFP to address hunger when food is available but people are unable to afford it. This scheme also injects money into the local economy and support local producers." Launching programs like these undoubtedly reflect an international concern over the situation, but what needed to be done should exceed attending to the immediate nutritional needs and provide the suitable environment for making a living.
The Palestinians and Israel are in conflict over two main natural resources: water and natural gas. Most of water comes from two large aquifers and Israel has control over both of them, and it consumes most of the water that comes from these aquifers, but it also provides 77% of the Palestinians’ water supply in the West Bank and Gaza. Palestinians buy their water needs from an Israeli company, Mekorot, due to Israel’s control of water wells.
The second conflict is over natural gas which was discovered in 2000 within the region of Gaza strip. Although Israel wanted the gas field for itself, the British gas company (BG) Group signed an agreement with Egypt to pipe Gaza gas to Egypt then sell it to USA and EU. Gaza government, Hamas, does not have the infrastructure to exploit gas commercially and the transport system is blocked by the Israeli imposed siege. It was agreed that GB Group explore natural gas for the benefit of all concerned parties. According to Eyre (Sep 2009), the share of the Palestinians was 10% only of the revenues. He continues to say “It is obvious that if the Palestinians were allowed to claim what is rightfully theirs and if the United Nations stood firm in supporting them we would see a transformation in Gaza and West Bank that is beyond imagination.” Eyre argues that although the United Nations is well aware that the Palestinians have their full right to invest in their natural resources, it abstains from interfering by sending peacekeeping forces because they know that depleted uranium was used by Israel against the Palestinians and peacekeeping forces would be in danger if they come to the region.
Eyre (Sep 2009) states that “UN resolution 3005 (XXVII) 15 December 1972 affirmed the principle of sovereignty of the population of occupied territories over their natural wealth and resources and called upon all States, international organizations and specialized agencies not to recognize or co-operate with, or assist in any manner in, any measures undertaken by the occupying Power to exploit the resources of the occupied territories or to effect any changes in the demographic composition or geographic character or institutional structure of those territories.” This shows that Israel is denying the Palestinians their rights to exploit their natural resources in violation with aforementioned UN resolution.
The West Bank and Gaza have rich resources of natural gas and water and if the Palestinians were allowed to exploit these resources, they would enjoy a good standard of living. But the problem is that Israel assumes full control on these resources and exploits them and doles out a small share to the Palestinians. There is a need for international community to empower the Palestinians to explore their natural resources.
Until Palestine is retrieved to its original population, it will remain suffering from economic, financial and human rights issues. The situation now is not normal as it is occupied by an artificial state that was created in the heart and Islamic land. Whatever Israel doles out to the Palestinians using their own natural resources is not the real economic capability of the occupied lands.
Suha Aljundi