Not satisfied with trying to wedge divisions between resistance factions, Israel aims to pit Gazans against the resistance through economic persuasion and coercion.
Closing the Beit Hanoun-Erez border crossing (between Israel and the northern end of the Gaza Strip) has become one of Tel Aviv’s most effective punishments to control and clamp down on Palestinian resistance toward its occupation.
It is the crossing used by thousands of Palestinians who travel to work inside Israel and remit critical income for the struggling economy of the densely-populated Gaza Strip.
In early August, the Israelis shuttered the crossing after the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) resistance movement threatened to retaliate for the arrest of one of its leaders, Sheikh Bassam Al-Saadi, from the occupied West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp.
The month before that, in mid-July, the Palestinian resistance launched missiles at the occupied city of Ashkelon. In addition to its standard response of bombing both resistance and civilian targets, Tel Aviv shuttered the essential border crossing to thousands of Palestinian workers in Gaza.
It has become patently clear that this is the occupation’s latest strategy: Tel Aviv punishes Palestinians by waving the “stick” of tightening its economic siege on Gaza, while withdrawing the “carrot” of allowing them to earn wages inside Israel.
After the May 2021 battle of Sayf Al-Quds (Sword of Jerusalem) which demonstrated that Gaza’s residents were fully aligned behind their resistance fighters, Israel realized that its suffocating siege policy – intended to turn Palestinian populations against the resistance and hold it responsible for their impoverished plight – had utterly failed.
So Tel Aviv moved to adopt a policy of “economic peace” espoused by US President Joe Biden. The premise was simple: authorize tens of thousands of Palestinians to work inside Israel, and use them as a bargaining chip to exert pressure on the armed resistance – mainly Hamas and the PIJ – hampering their ability, via economic pressure, to respond to Israeli brutalities in any protracted, meaningful way.
After the lessons of Sayf Al-Quds, in November 2021, for the first time in nearly 17 years, Tel Aviv allowed the entry of up to 10,000 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip into Israeli cities, albeit restricting this “privilege” to merchants and patients.
It is noteworthy that the application for an Israeli work permit must be submitted via an electronic platform announced by the Hamas Ministry of Labor. At the time, the head of the Follow-up Committee on Governmental Work in Gaza Issam Al-Daalis described this initiative as the result of regional mediations with Israel to permit the entry of around 30,000 workers per month.
The number of unemployed people of both genders in the sector is 223,000, and includes tens of thousands of graduates, professionals and industrialists.
In 2002, Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, closed the doors to Gaza’s Palestinians seeking work opportunities in Israel. The ban came after two years of systematically reducing their numbers, which began with the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000.
According to statistics from the Palestinian Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS), the number of Palestinian workers in (Israel) exceeded 115 thousand in 1998, 40 percent of them from the Gaza Strip.
The role of the Palestinian Ministry of Labor – affiliated with Hamas in Gaza – is limited to registering those wishing to work, then handing over lists of names to the Ministry of Civil Affairs of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah.
The latter submits the lists to the Israeli Liaison Office, which presents them to the General Security Agency (Sha Pak) which makes a final decision to approve or reject the application, based on available security information about the applicant.
Between a rock and a hard place
More than 2.2 million residents of the Gaza Strip face difficult living conditions. Only about 120,000 families have a stable source of income averaging around $550 per month, which comes primarily from two main parties: the Hamas-affiliated Gaza government and the PA government in Ramallah.
In addition to these are the local employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), private sector employees, workers at international institutions and civil society projects, and members of the Palestinian resistance factions.
They total about 840 thousand people, more than two-thirds of whom live below the poverty line despite the semi-regular income, as the PA sets the minimum monthly wage at 1,880 shekels ($580).
Recent statistics from the Palestinian Ministry of Social Affairs and a number of research centers indicate that the poverty rate in the Gaza Strip in the last ten years has risen to 80 percent, while the percentage of families living in a state of extreme poverty ($2 per day) has reached a staggering 35 percent. Today, UNRWA represents the main source of food for 80 percent of the population of the Strip.
According to economic expert Muhammad Abu Jiyab, the breadwinners of more than 360,000 families lost their jobs after 2002, either because of Israel’s worker bans and restrictions, or because of its army’s destruction of facilities that provided job opportunities for about 170,000 workers.
When Hamas assumed power in 2007 after internal fighting led to the exit of the PA from the Strip, Israel imposed a stifling blockade on Gaza. Abu Jiyab told The Cradle that Israel has since worked on impoverishing the Gaza Strip through successive steps, commencing with the wholesale destruction of vital economic facilities in the 2008/2009 war that forced Palestinians to become reliant on the importation, instead of production, of goods.
This in turn led to the loss of more than 150 thousand job opportunities that were provided by Gaza’s once plentiful factories.
In the four wars that followed, Israelis also systematically took aim at destroying Gaza’s agricultural sector. Whether by bulldozing and bombing agricultural lands, or through punitive measures that prevented the export of Gaza’s crops to the West Bank and European markets (despite their conformity to international specifications and standards), Tel Aviv took an axe to Gaza’s food self-sufficiencies.
Abu Jiyab continues: “Israel also obstructed the work of fishermen in the Gaza Strip, and this contributed to the shrinking of the number of workers in the fishing profession from 20 thousand fishermen to 3800, who live below the poverty line.”
Gaza’s economy reached a state of complete paralysis in 2013 after Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated and Hamas-friendly Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was deposed. The Egyptian authorities that replaced him shut down the vital Egypt-Gaza Rafah border crossing and demolished the border tunnels that served as an economic lifeline, supplying the Gaza Strip with goods and energizing its local economy.
This reduced salaries in Gaza by half, from $700 to $300, which were paid once every 45 days (later increased to $480).
In addition, Palestinians in Gaza pay the same taxes as residents of the West Bank and Israel, despite the huge disparity in average wages. While the minimum wage in Israel, for example, is 7,440 shekels ($2,100) with an unemployment rate of 1 percent, and 5,000 shekels ($1,500) in the West Bank, with unemployment standing at 14 percent, the average monthly income in Gaza does not exceed 1,500 shekels ($440), with an unemployment rate of over 47 percent.
To make matters worse, 15 years ago, the Ramallah government shut its doors to employing Gaza Strip graduates and restricted all jobs to West Bank Palestinians.
Turning ‘the people’ against ‘the resistance’
Informed sources say that the November 2021 decision by Tel Aviv authorizing Gazans to work in Israel came in response to a request by Washington, and was encouraged in Israeli political and security circles by Qatar by the head of the Qatari Committee for the Reconstruction of Gaza, Ambassador Muhammad Al-Emadi.
Political analyst Ayman Al-Rafati believes that the widespread popular support by West Bank, Gaza, Jerusalem and 1948 Palestinians for the resistance forces during the Sayf Al-Quds battle prompted Israel to change its policy granting work permits to Palestinians in the occupied territories.
As Rafati told The Cradle: “The full support for the resistance, and enthusiasm for its missile strikes on cities in the occupied territories, gave a dangerous indication to Israeli study centers, that within years, Israel will not find a social class in Gaza that supports any political solution, after the Israeli siege pushed the Gazans to line up behind the resistance.”
“Therefore, Israel decided to support the reproduction of a social class whose interests are linked to calm, and it can pressure the resistance not to escalate in order to protect these interests,” Rafati continued.
This is exactly what happened in August’s brief but fierce military confrontation between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which killed around 50 Palestinians and injured hundreds more.
It is part of the reason why the largest resistance movement Hamas did not join the battle this time: the potential economic fallout if Tel Aviv once more cut off or restricted the movement of Palestinian workers.
Biden’s policy of “economic peace,” according to political researcher Ismail Muhammad, aims to achieve several goals, the most important of which is to provide Israeli-controlled economic welfare for the Palestinians, which can be withdrawn every time the resistance threatens to escalate or retaliate.
“In addition,” explains Muhammad, “this policy offers new options for younger generations. Instead of affiliation with the Palestinian factions being the only door open to obtaining a job, Israel opens another door, hoping that this will lead to isolating the resistance factions from the largest and most needy segment. In the Gaza Strip.”
Israel’s keenness to maintain calm with Gaza also aims to steer the Strip away from its history of resisting, end the state of “unity of fronts” which Sayf Al-Quds established, and single out the West Bank and Jerusalem to accelerate Israel’s annexation and expansion projects.
Israel forgets that the resistance is of the people
The resistance in Gaza finds itself in a complicated situation. It cannot obstruct facilities that would improve the standard of living of the poorest working class, because that would place it in confrontation with its own population.
Therefore, it chose to accept the situation, despite being aware of its security risks, and given the daily interaction of more than 20,000 Palestinian workers with Israelis, which makes them vulnerable to extortion and other pressures.
A source close to the resistance leadership who spoke with The Cradle, plays down the danger of the Israeli gamble on besieging the resistance from within its Palestinian populations.
“When the Palestinian Intifada broke out in 2000, the living conditions of the Palestinians were excellent. Despite this, the attacks on our sanctities led to the involvement of all components of the Palestinian people in the Intifada, without caring about the loss of living gains,” the source explains.
“Our people need calm and to recover a little from the effects of the Israeli wars and the siege.”
“But they have proven throughout 70 years of conflict that the bet on bartering the homeland for work and luxury is a failed bet. Let the Israelis try their failed tools again, and they will undoubtedly see in any future confrontation proof of their disappointment,” he continues.