The Gaza “Freedom Flotilla” of May 31 brought the world’s attention to the collective punishment the people of Gaza are going through. But despite the much-heralded Israeli “easing” of the siege in response to a furious world, the situation in Gaza remains much the same, and even worse for businesses there.
Donald Macintyre of the Independent (UK) tells the story of the Abu Dan garment factory. The Abu Dan’s can’t export their clothes to Israel because of the Israeli blockade of Gaza. This has been the situation for many businesses in Gaza since 2007, when the full blown air, sea and land closure was imposed on the Strip. But now, the garment factory is doing worse than it has been because of the flooding of the local market with cheap Israeli goods, a process that has been going on since the so-called “easing” of the blockade:
In a series of intensive negotiations with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, Quartet envoy Tony Blair managed to secure a tangible change of policy. Israel agreed to allow imports to Gaza of all goods other than those on a list of items – notably cement and other building materials deemed security risks if appropriated for military purposes by Hamas – rulers of this territory of 1.5 million people.
True, Karni remained closed, and the increase in imports to Gaza only reached below 40 per cent of pre- siege levels. But the truckloads increased to around 250 a day, and previously banned consumer goods, from chocolate to children’s toys, from refrigerators to bathtaps, from window glass to cars, have flowed into Gaza. This was good news for those Gaza consumers who can afford them, for Israeli goods are at once cheaper and better than those that were previously smuggled through tunnels from Egypt. Moreover, some unbanned raw materials including cloth for the imploded garment industry slowly began to move into the Strip, allowing some production to restart – albeit at a fraction of pre-2007 levels.
Yet for companies like the Abu Dans’ – whose decades-old, $1.5m factory was the biggest clothing enterprise in Gaza – the easing of the embargo had a perverse effect. With the ban on exports still in force, the family was now hard pressed even to sell to the local market, because of its flooding by – often Chinese made – cheap clothing coming through Israel. “They talk about easing the embargo but that means allowing in finished goods which we cannot compete with. Believe me, things are worse for us now than before it happened,” says Mr Abu Dan.
In other words, what Senator Chuck Schumer of New York approvingly called the Israeli blockade–economic strangulation–remains in place.