Amid Israeli airstrikes and our political struggle for statehood, we are fighting an economic battle to keep Palestinians in Palestine, the ultimate act of non-violent resistance against the Netanyahu government’s state and settler violence. So why are some U.S. companies turning away?Depending on who you talk to, the Palestinian economy is either in intensive care, a victim of relentless and prolonged Israeli military aggression or it is thriving, exhibiting remarkable resilience in the face of all the challenges it faces.
In May, The World Bank reported that the Palestinian economy had a “bleak” outlook, citing Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and more restrictions on the West Bank.
In June, Firas Melhem, governor of The Palestine Monetary Authority, told a group of business people in Nablus the good news that the Palestinian banking sector was growing and amounted to some $21 billion dollars of capital.
Welcome to Palestinians’ state of “economic schizophrenia”: a mix of development and growth and economic woe all tangled within Israel’s ongoing occupation and a new government with extremist ministers that has made life even more dangerous and deadly.
Make no mistake, even when there is positive economic news, think how much better it should be without Israel’s control of the macroeconomic development of Palestine. So, any good economic news or forecast comes from the hard work on the ground of building a Palestinian economy despite that. That’s why it’s imperative all the major players act to support the Palestinian economy’s normal operation, especially while it strives to make progress under military occupation.
Watching the news, one may be excused for not seeing that Palestinians are engaged in an economic struggle no less intense than their political struggle aiming for national liberation and statehood.
Overnight Monday for example, Israel launched a massive operation targeting a Palestinian militant stronghold inside a refugee camp inside the West Bank town of Jenin. It’s not by chance that the camp has both extremely high rates of unemployment and poverty and has become a hotbed for armed resistance against the Israeli occupation. Contributing to the interlocking cycle of poverty and violence is that hundreds of its residents are ineligible for work permits inside Israel because Israel suspects them of being militants.
The city of Jenin’s economy is dependent in part on Palestinian citizens of Israel doing their shopping there. But when Israeli drones are attacking targets and there are ground forces in place the economic damage in an already fragile setting will be lasting.
A closer look reveals the economic and political struggles are one. In the past, one could have been mystified as to why Israel did not permit Palestinian economic development, but the current Israeli government has effectively “spilled the beans”. They have made it clear in their actions and words of their most extreme members revealing what Palestinians have been arguing for years: Israel has no intention of allowing Palestinians to establish a state. Their plan — already in action — is ultimately one of annexation of the West Bank, as indicated by Bezalel Smotrich, Israel’s far-right finance minister, a proponent of Jewish superiority.
As part of his agreement to be part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition a number of governmental powers in the West Bank were transferred from the military to him.
Smotrich has made no secret of his vision. In a 2017 article called The Tipping Plan, he outlines his plan to have Palestinians either leave their homes, accept their fate as unequal subjects under Israel’s iron fist, or turn violent.
Anyone who knows Palestinians will not be surprised that the Palestinians have no plans to heed any of Smotrich’s plans for us.
Instead, we wake up every morning to build our economy, no matter how damaged or distorted it may be. We create all the jobs we can to keep Palestinians in Palestine, the ultimate act of non-violent resistance in the face of this government’s plans to continue displacing us.
We hope that as young Palestinians find dignified employment, they will have the resources and mindset to be creative in how they non-violently resist Israel’s military occupation.
Regardless of one’s preference for a particular model for peace, two states, one state, confederation, federation, parallel sovereignty, a condominium arrangement, or anything in between, one thing is given: Palestinians must be able to build a viable economy.
The Palestinian economy could be the economic foundation of the future Palestinian state, or if a state is no longer feasible or desired, then Palestinians have a right to build an economy that will offer their community a viable existence within the state of Israel.
In the meantime, as occupation soldiers on, international human rights as outlined under the Fourth Geneva Convention stipulates that despite occupation and war, the people living in an occupied territory are to be “allowed to live as normal lives as possible”.
Even if the situation is not classified as a military occupation, as Israel alone, in the world, declares, then common sense would call for Israel to allow Palestinians under its control to economically develop so as not to instigate even more poverty, and loss of hope, which can lead some, especially the young, turn to the path of violence.
Life for Palestinians was difficult enough before the current Israeli government, but since it took power and assumed a policy of naked aggression against our communities, while unleashing settler violence like never before, the result has been the highest number of Palestinian deaths in two decades. In the face of state violence and settler violence, two sides of the same coin, fighting for our economy becomes even more essential.
Israel must be held accountable for suffocating the Palestinian economy from blocking access to natural resources like water, gas, quarries, and the sea, laying siege on the Gaza Strip, and hindering every Palestinian’s movement.
The international community must hold Israel accountable for this growing catastrophe. However, accountability alone, even if effective with the help of international law is not enough.
The Palestinian government is not an innocent bystander to this economic mess. They must be more effective, less corrupt and, above all, allow for legitimate political representation, by elections or otherwise, within all levels of government.
But economies are not built on islands. Now more than ever we need the global private sector’s help.
We do not seek charity, rather we seek to be treated equally in the global economy. This means access to global markets and global platforms. One key platform, especially in today’s digital world, is global payment systems, like PayPal, the leading payment platform. Regretfully, as a case in point, PayPal refuses to offer its services to Palestinians but has no issue providing accounts to illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank.
There is no satisfactory answer to those who ask why PayPal refuses to follow the lead of technology giants like Google, Cisco, HP, Oracle, and many others, which all operate in Palestine. Even Apple Pay and Stripe, PayPal’s competitors, operate there.
Nevertheless, many multinational firms from the U.S. and around the world, like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Kellogg’s, KraftHeinz, and GEHC Pharma, are among many companies working within the Palestinian economy. They are doing the right thing by showing up and becoming facilitators for a better future in Palestine.
Such firms should be recognized for helping build the arc that Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently said in 1968 “bends toward justice”.
There is no purely economic solution to this political quagmire. But while the world figures out how to end this human-made catastrophe, no one has the luxury to turn away, not Israelis, not the Palestinian government, the international community, nor the corporate world.
The harm military occupation and the settler movement are doing is clearly visible. But international companies taking a discriminatory approach to Palestine also do deep and lasting damage.
Meanwhile, I watch Jenin smoldering from this most recent act of Israeli aggression and I see a wounded party whose name won’t be reported once the casualty list is tallied, but who needs our help. It’s called the Palestinian economy.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on July 3, 2023 on ePalestine, a website featuring commentary by Sam Bahour. The article also appeared in Medium and Haaretz. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Bahour.
Image: Vatican News