The blockade of Gaza and the ongoing relevance of Edmund Silberner

This is not a surprise, but it is worth keeping in mind:

The blockade has also decimated Gaza's private sector, key to weaning the territory from its dependence on imports and aid. The merchant class here has long provided a chunk of Gaza's employment, and it is one of the few sectors that fostered constructive contact with Israel, through trade.

"This is like a death penalty for us," says Mohammed Al Telbani, chief executive of Al Awda Factories Co., a cookie and ice-cream maker.

Businesses can't import raw materials or export finished goods. Since the blockade, more than 3,000 private-sector enterprises, including factories and small businesses, have closed, contributing to an unemployment rate of 44%, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency in Gaza.

Many of the businesses that have managed to stay open have turned to smugglers to bring in machines, spare parts and raw materials from Egypt, severing trade ties between Gaza and Israeli manufacturers and traders.

All this has bolstered Hamas, businessmen here and aid agencies say. Hamas exerts oversight over the tunnels and their operators. It has expanded its own public-sector payroll, earning local praise for creating new jobs. It has also extended economic tentacles into new businesses.

Yaser Alwadeya, chairman of Alwadeya Group, a 54-year-old trading and manufacturing conglomerate, calls the new economic reality here "the Hamas private sector." Before the blockade, his company made 171 different brands of food, including chips and candy. Some 60% of his products went to Israel or the West Bank.

Much of his manufacturing line was destroyed by Israeli airstrikes during the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza war, he says.

Facilities that survived are now starved of basic raw materials like cocoa powder, reducing his product line to just 11 items. That includes ice cream sold in clear plastic bags, because, Mr. Alwadeya says, Israel won't allow in proper packaging.

He no longer exports anything, and he now employs 45 people, down from 276 before the blockade. "Where do you think they are?" asks Mr. Alwadeya of the employees he has had to fire. "Either on the streets or with Hamas."

Edmund Silberner's classic treatment of trade and war remains relevant and of course he was also a prominent Zionist, albeit a mostly forgotten one today. 

Most journalistic coverage, by the way, focuses on diplomacy and negotiations. Perhaps it refers to concepts such as "strengthening the hard liners," but often it goes no further.  Yet frequently the real action stems from how policies shift the relative balance of power among interest groups, a point which Silberner understood well.  There is much related information here, from The Jerusalem Post, which notes that 95 percent of the factories and workshops in Gaza have had to close.  Furthermore:

Before 2007, 70 trucks laden with export goods such as furniture, clothing and produce left Gaza daily for Israel. Now, only the export of strawberries and flowers to Europe is allowed in certain instances…

I wonder if anyone in Israel right now is reading or citing classical liberal Edmund Silberner.  Here is a good, short piece on Silberner (in German), although it focuses on his work on socialism and anti-semitism rather than the roots or war.

Comments

So, maybe we should set up a Palestine homeland outside Dallas.

"Clearly the current situation is a mess, but what's the counterfactual? If the Gaza economy were strong, Hamas might have less relative strength in Gaza, but more absolute strength (in terms of capability to fire rockets into Israel). If there is no peace deal to be made, is Israel better off with a weak enemy rather than strong one? ... a tragic but potentially realistic view."

The point of the blockade was specifically to destroy these businesses. Preventing arms is one thing, but as of now, Israel bans the importation of things like nuts, dried fruits, and newspapers. The idea was to weaken the resolve of the Gazans in order to get them to overthrow Hamas. (I'll avoid the morality of that, especially considering that 45% of the population of Gaza are under the age of 15...)

A much "lighter" embargo, specifically preventing the importation of weapons, is a third option.

Before 2007, 70 trucks laden with export goods such as furniture, clothing and produce left Gaza daily for Israel. Now, only the export of strawberries and flowers to Europe is allowed in certain instances...

What would be the numbers for rockets fired into Israel before and since 2007?

Wonder what the US would do if Mexico (or Canada :-O ) if thousands of rockets were sent into the US from across the border?

Maybe Gazans stop shooting rockets into Israel . . .

If Gaza "powers that be" were concerned with economics they would declare peace and push econimic growth and development. Point is: they are terrorists and terror is what terrorists do.

A quick point orthogonal to those above and in the article: To what extent are the outcomes described (closed factories; shrinking private sector) the result of the Israeli blockade, and to what extent are they the result of Hamas policy? I'm not speaking of the indirect results of Hamas policy (for instance, the argument that the situation described is the result of the Israeli blockade, which in turn is the result of Hamas belligerence). Rather, a plausible argument can be made that even were Israel not to blockade Gaza, private factory owners who were not favored by Hamas would face similar conditions. This article in Der Spiegel does a good job of illuminating this point.

http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,698766,00.html

In analyzing the Israeli-Arab conflict, even the most intelligent people are prone to making the mistake of denying agency to the Arabs, capable only of reacting to Israeli moves. I think this post does so.

If trade is so important to Palestinians, why hasn't the PLO or Hamas approved any peace legislation ever? Sure, there's "drafts" that will always be "resubmitted in final form" - but absolutely ZERO documents that have been formally approved by the PLO or Hamas.

Palestine and Israel have been at war since 1947.

Or, perhaps, people are deliberately choosing to forget the many intifadas committed against the Jews when Arabs had control of the land - 1929, 1936-39. Oops, looks like those theoretically tolerant Muslims aren't exactly "considerate" when they have power. Just like anyone who bothers to understand the Muslim religion knows -- they claim to want peace until they have power, and then kill everyone who opposes them when in power.

How is this shocking? Go read Benny Morris' primer on the entire relationship - or keep throwing out pablum without knowledge.

Additionally: Gaza borders both Israel and EGYPT. Yet, all the political pressure is solely on Israel. Why?

That would be "goyische", agnostic.

I apologize in advance.

I've determined that for the traditional anti-semite (I was one until 11 Sep 2001), it's morally acceptable for gallant Gazans and heroic Hamas to shoot a thousand rockets into Israel if of each 1,000 shot only one Israeli is rendered "justice for Palestinians."

I think I have the moral mathematics correct.

Security and prosperity go hand in hand. There is 44% unemployment in Gaza. As those youths (45% under the age of 15, according to an above poster) reach their late teens, and find no jobs waiting for them, they are going to be pissed off. And rightly or not, the majority of them are going to blame the people enforcing the blockade, not Hamas.

Yes, Israel has real security concerns, and by no means do I expect them to allow unfettered and unrestricted flow of goods in to Gaza. But they have to do something to allow growth to take place, or the problem will continue to grow.

There is, of course, the not insignificant possibility of allowing toilet paper and ice cream wrappers in, David L, remaining as something to be done.

It's funny how people who recognize the importance of institutional decentralization of power and the fact that the Will of the State doesn't equate to the Will of the People in Western countries will, when it comes to the Palestinian issue, think that obliterating all economic activity in the region can do anything but strengthen Hamas's relative power.

Gazan business and the middle class would much rather simply have trade and business than put up with governance by glorified social workers who can't even fire a missile competently.

Sigivald: It appears that employment was 40% back in 2007 already. The embargo was a response to Hamas being elected and Fatah pulling out. The sanctions were tightened after some rocket attacks, but they existed beforehand. I believe they were also briefly loosened during a somewhat successful ceasefire agreement in 2008 but I'm not sure to the extent. And my point was not that the current unemployment is causing hostilities, though it doesn't help. But looking at the future, you're going to have a huge swathe of the population reaching age to find work, and have no opportunities. And I may be wrong (see my disclaimers about not being an expert in any way about the area at the end of the post), but I think that is going to engender some anger focused at Israel. Which will cause the whole situation to continue to deteriorate.

I really think the Israeli government needs to loosen the sanctions again, at least somewhat. I understand the concern that things like concrete and steel can be used to make fortified positions and the like, but it also is used to make homes, schools and hospitals, the sort of thing that got destroyed during the war last year and need to be rebuilt if Gaza is going to get any functioning economy going.

Maybe I'm wrong and this is really the best equilibrium that can be hoped for, but I doubt it. And I don't see nearly enough discussion of alternatives. If people feel that the Gaza strip is full of a bunch of blood thirsty lunatic terrorists who will never treat with Israel, or if they feel the Israelis are Zionist scum who just want to wipe out all Palestinians, that's fine, but simply restating that position whenever an incident happens is not very useful (to be clear I'm not accusing you of either of those positions).

What about other nations inspecting the ships going into Gaza. They'll lack some of the paranoia of Israel, but also can make sure weapons don't get through. Is there any reason a Mediterranean country like Italy or France wouldn't be acceptable for that? Maybe that is a ridiculous idea, and feel free to point out why, but I'm trying. I'm no expert on the region, politics or history of Israel and Palestine.

On that note if you have any sources on the area you find particularly good, I'd love for you to mention them. I'm playing some serious catch up in trying to gain a deeper, balanced view of the whole thing.

Do any of you know why seemingly innocuous items, such as certain foods, are being restricted? If I understand correctly, the assertion is that the worse off the Gazan economy, the more relative power Hamas has. I've also seen in the comments that Hamas may have more relative power, but less absolute power (because it has less materials to build rockets and such). But wouldn't worsening the Gazan economy in a way that doesn't hurt Hamas' absolute power actually increase it?

Do any of you understand this (or can guess at a reason)? The only thing I can think of is to make the people resent the Hamas and therefore rebel against them - but that is a lost cause (the Hamas is much too ruthless and intimidating to go against).

Ancient Meso-America had economies based entirely on torture and ritual human sacrifice! I am not sure exactly how they worked, though.

"Clearly the current situation is a mess, but what's the counterfactual? If the Gaza economy were strong, Hamas might have less relative strength in Gaza, but more absolute strength (in terms of capability to fire rockets into Israel). If there is no peace deal to be made, is Israel better off with a weak enemy rather than strong one? ... a tragic but potentially realistic view."

The point of the blockade was specifically to destroy these businesses. Preventing arms is one thing, but as of now, Israel bans the importation of things like nuts, dried fruits, and newspapers. The idea was to weaken the resolve of the Gazans in order to get them to overthrow Hamas. (I'll avoid the morality of that, especially considering that 45% of the population of Gaza are under the age of 15...)

A much "lighter" embargo, specifically preventing the importation of weapons, is a third option.

Comments for this post are closed