Voices of Palestine

Sam Bahour

“In order to discuss the Palestinian economy, it is important to understand the context it exists in. Our economy has been forced into a structural dependency on the larger Israeli economy since the beginning of the occupation in 1967. Today, by Israeli military force, we function merely as an extension to the Israeli economic ecosystem. COGAT (Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories), which is a unit under the Israeli Ministry of Defence coordinates all activities in the occupied Palestinian territory across all areas of the economy. It is the Israeli side that decides on anything from getting an import license to the amount of water we have access to, to who benefits from Palestinians’ stone and marble mines and telecommunication’s electromagnetic spectrum. The Palestinian Authority that was a function of the Oslo agreement does not have the leverage to move the economy forward in any structured way. The Palestinian Authority is the biggest oxymoron given they have zero strategic authority over their own economic resources.

The natural economic sectors of the Palestinian economy are agriculture and tourism, but given the Israeli control of the borders, the water and natural resources, and 62% of the territory of the West Bank through settlements and military and commercial presence, the Palestinian economy can only succeed to the extent that it is allowed to by Israel. The knowledge-based economy is growing partly because of restrictions and delays on imports and exports of physical products forcing Palestinians to find alternatives to traditional industry. However, the knowledge-based economy depends on things like open telecommunications and an educated workforce – telecommunications remain under heavy restrictions and the quality of the Palestinian universities is declining as a result of the restrictions on access and travelling that are affecting both the ability to take part in international academic fora’s and host international professors, researchers and students.
It should not be forgotten that the majority of the Palestinian people live outside of the occupied territory, but Israel controls who of them are able to enter Palestine or not. The five million Palestinian refugees are all prohibited.

Denied the resources and mandate to ensure the structured economic development that is a precondition of building a functioning state we are reverting our energy towards economic activity – we build, we open up restaurants, start software companies, etc. to meet the needs of our communities by generating income opportunities and thereby keeping people from being forced to leave. But of course, this limited economic activity cannot in itself be considered a sufficient or sustainable solution if the ambition is a functioning state. Economic control is just one aspect of the restrictions and control imposed on the Palestinians.
As an Israeli official once said, you can break eggs and make an omelette but it is hard to turn an omelette back into eggs. The non-stop expansion of the illegal, Jewish-only Israeli settlement enterprise is turning what’s left of Palestine into that omelette.

Following this logic, one must pose a fundamental question: what is the situation of the Palestinians? Are they under military occupation, like every country in the world says they are, except Israel, the military occupier? If so, the Geneva Convention clearly dictates that signatories to the Convention, Third States, work to ensure that the fundamental rights of those under occupation are not violated. After 48 years of occupation, common sense suggests that a clear deadline must be established to end the occupation. If the state of affairs is not military occupation, then what is it? Are we subjects under Israeli rule between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River? Either way international law dictates that we are granted equal rights. None of the above has yet materialized and therefore a hard road lies ahead to turn an omelette into eggs…”

Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American businessman, writer and activist. He is a managing partner of Applied Information Management, and participated in establishing two publicly traded firms in Palestine. He serves on the board of several institutions and organisations.