Ramadan Kareem

Palestinian families, in happier days, in front of the Al Aqsa Mosque — the Dome of the Rock — in Jerusalem.  This Ramadan, many Palestinians may be unable to say their prayers at one of Islam’s holiest sites, due to provocations by Jewish settlers and Israel’s occupation of the Old City. Photo:  Reuters, Muammar Awad

A Very Unhappy New Year

Despite the Palestinian Stock Exchange surpassing all others in the Arab world last year, the dawn of 2016 in the West Bank brought somber news:  the death toll of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank since October had risen to 142.  Another 15,000 had been injured, many of them seriously.

Many Israelis, too, now live in constant fear, even though their own dead and injured are a fraction of those killed “on the other side.”  No end is in sight, not least because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fragile coalition government is dependent on the most extreme Israeli settler movements, who regard occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank as their own.

Al Aqsa Mosque, East Jerusalem, October 2015.  Credit:  EPA

Al Aqsa Mosque, East Jerusalem, October 2015. Credit: EPA

Measures by the World Bank and the Quartet–the body which represents the US, the EU, Russia and the UN–to focus on the development of the private sector in the West Bank, and the need to alleviate the very high levels of unemployment, give a ray of hope, as does the EU’s ruling last year on the labelling of produce from the Palestinian territories. But recent efforts by Tel Aviv to bolster the Palestinian economy with long overdue measures, such as giving 3G spectrum licenses to Palestinian telecoms firms at a time when 4G is standard, only confirm the pessimism of many in Ramallah, Jericho, Hebron, Bethlehem and Nablus, never mind Gaza City and Khan Younis, as well as East Jerusalem.  They increasingly doubt that the international community is willing to take the tough moves needed to change the rapidly deteriorating situation on the ground.

Now, more than ever, the impressive and growing solidarity of Palestine’s grass roots supporters around the world, combined with the faith and confidence of its investors and benefactors, especially in the diaspora, is needed.

We’ll be keeping tabs on all this, and, after a hiatus in 2015, we’ll again be giving you the news and insights you need on Palestine’s economy, including its vital political dimension.  Stay tuned…. and,

A Very Happy 2016,

from all of us here at InvestPalestine.

Pam

© Pamela Ann Smith

This is a publication of investpalestine.wordpress.com and is protected by international copyright laws. This article is for the reader’s personal use only, but may be re-distributed electronically with a credit to investpalestine.com.

Eid al-Adha Greetings

A time of sacrifice, family and food. A time of giving. Eid Mubarak!

Ayatollah Mohammad-Ali Movahedi Kermani at Eid al Adha prayers, Tehran University October, 2014.

Ayatollah Mohammad-Ali Movahedi Kermani at Eid al Adha prayers, Tehran University, October, 2014.  Photo courtesy of TheIranProject.com.

Let’s hope that the rapprochement with Iran will lead to a safer world. And that it will bring peace and prosperity to all.

With all good wishes,

InvestPalestine.com

Ramadan Kareem

A Palestinian Boy Reads the Quran in the Al Omari Mosque, Gaza City, on the first day of Ramadan. Photograph:  Mohammed Saber/EPA, The National.

A Palestinian Boy Reads the Quran in the Al Omari Mosque, Gaza City, on the first day of Ramadan.
Photograph: Mohammed Saber/EPA, The National.

Yes, resilience and survival are vital in these days of shattering upheaval….

But so too is a sense of reverence, so that we may preserve our dignity, and our hope for a better future for our children.

— Pam

Christmas in Bethlehem

In a Christmas card designed by Banksy, an England-based graffiti artist and political activist, the holy family (Joseph and Mary) head towards Bethlehem only to find Israel's Separation Barrier, aka "the Apartheid Wall" on their way. With Christmas approaching and the political overtones of Banksy's work, the card spread like wildfire.

In a Christmas card designed by Banksy, a UK-based artist and political activist, the Holy Family — Joseph and Mary — head towards Bethlehem only to find Israel’s ‘Separation Barrier,’ preventing their way.
This Christmas, the card, with all of its implications for humanity’s universal rights — as well as for Christianity’s heritage — has spread like wildfire.  Picture Credit:  Al-Ahram.

A biblical theme, set in the contemporary reality that is Bethlehem, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as Gaza.  Conflict, destruction, separation, oppression.

Let’s hope that 2015 will bring a real prospect of peace, with justice, further forward, not to mention a minimum of prosperity for all.

— From Pam and all our contributors,

Wishing you the Best of Greetings for this Festive Season.

Gaza: Historic Gateway’s Huge Potential as a Mediterranean Trading Hub

To most people around the world, the word ‘Gaza’ conjures up images of rockets and bombs, wars, poverty and invasion, never mind the appalling conditions in which many of its residents live as a result of the ongoing Israeli blockade and, most recently, the massive Israeli attack on the enclave — its third in the past six years. But, while one international commentator wrote recently, “It’s not too fanciful to see it in the future as the ‘Dubai’ of the Eastern Mediterranean,” Gaza has much more to offer given its 3,000 years of culture and its history as a prosperous trading hub connecting Africa and Asia, Europe and the Middle East.

Gaza, by David Roberts. Photo Reproduction, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

Gaza, by David Roberts. Photo Reproduction, Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

(Click on the photo to enlarge.)

In the 19th Century, Gaza’s renowned soap factories, like those in Nablus, produced luxury goods that were exported around the world. It’s premium cotton crop, fruits, vegetables and spices were in great demand. Gaza’s merchants catered to a vast array of travelers: European visitors to the Holy Land, caravans from Egypt and North Africa, pilgrims from the Arabian Peninsula and Asia. Its bazaars were regarded as even better than those in Jerusalem.

Founded in the 14th Century, Khan Younis in southern Gaza served as a centre of the caravan trade between Asia and  Africa.  Photo:  Marka, Wikipedia.org

Founded in the 14th Century, Khan Younis in southern Gaza served as a centre of the caravan trade between Asia and Africa. Photo: Marka, Wikipedia.org

Before the latest invasion, the Washington-based International Monetary Fund estimated that Gaza’s GDP would rise by 7 per cent in 2013 and 6.5 per cent this year, figures that any European country would envy. But the destruction by Egypt, as well as Israel, of the underground tunnels, which allowed much needed supplies to be brought in despite the blockade, has ended any hopes that Gaza can survive on its own, never mind grow.

Earlier this year, it was expected that increases in international aid, especially from the European Union and the UN following Israel’s onslaught in November, 2012, would counter some of the setbacks. The rise in development funds, from both government and private sources in the Gulf states – including Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia – was also contributing to a new era of hope and confidence in Gaza. Qatar’s building projects, covering everything from schools, roads and hospitals to new housing and infrastructure projects alone were expected to create some 10,000 jobs by next year.

The University College of Applied Sciences in Gaza.  Many more schools and higher education facilities are needed.  Photo:  Ahmed Fuad.

The University College of Applied Sciences in Gaza. Many more schools and higher education facilities are needed. Photo: Ahmed Fuad.

Surprisingly, until the latest assault, the growing international awareness and support for Gaza’s people had also led to a boom in tourism in the enclaves’ new hotels, restaurants and shopping malls. International solidarity activists, NGO staff and aid officials were helping to boost capacity and business to levels not seen since the Israeli bombardment of late 2008.

Gaza's first five-star luxury hotel, the Al-Mashtal.  Photo:  ArcMed

Gaza’s first five-star luxury hotel, the Al-Mashtal. Photo: ArcMed

The desire of Gaza’s newly rich elite to live in up-to-date, spacious accommodation, combined with the eagerness of its private investors to seek out alternatives to the tunnel trade, helped to fuel a boom in real estate, retail and leisure services, as well as increased demand for international luxury brands.

Meanwhile, a host of recent studies, from the World Bank, Israeli academics and the Gaza-based PalThink research centre have pointed out that concrete measures will also be needed to be introduced by Hamas if Gaza’s huge economic potential is to be realized, even if the Israeli siege is lifted, or substantially eased.

In particular, they cite the need for more institutional support for the private sector, an overhaul of the tax regime, and measures to boost agricultural and industrial productivity, as well as export capacity.

Gaza could produce a huge array of fruits, vegetables, nuts, dates, olive oils and spices for export, if the seige were lifted.  Photo:  The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Gaza could produce a huge array of fruits, vegetables, nuts, dates, olive oils and spices for export, if the seige were lifted. Photo: The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Gaza's fishermen used to supply Egypt, Israel and neighbouring Arab states, but Israeli restrictions mean the fishermen cannot even supply domestic demand. Photo:  The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Gaza’s fishermen used to supply Egypt, Israel and neighbouring Arab states, but Israeli restrictions mean the fishermen cannot even supply domestic demand. Photo: The Gaza Kitchen, Just World Books, 2013

Special attention, they add, should be given to those sectors, such as manufacturing, construction and tourism, which would provide the most jobs. Vocational training projects, as well as a re-vamp of the entire educational system, plus incentives for the ICT and telecoms sector, they say, are urgently needed to help Gaza realize its opportunities in a globalized marketplace.

While the Bank of Palestine and other financial institutions have continued to provide, often under the most difficult circumstances, access to cash and funds in Gaza, Hamas will also need to ensure that any lifting of the Israeli siege, both for business people and cargoes, is accompanied by closer co-ordination of trade and regulations with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. Gaza’s dependence on the use of the Israeli shekel (NIS) as its main currency, together with its heavy reliance on money-lenders rather than on banks which can gather deposits and direct them to profitable development projects, could hold up progress in the future as more aid and investment pours in, and as reconstruction begins, once again, in earnest, the reports note.

If Gaza City is to thrive again, Hamas will need to introduce economic and financial reforms, as well as seeking to end the Israeli blockade.  Photo: Al Jazeera English

If Gaza City is to thrive again, Hamas will need to introduce economic and financial reforms, as well as seeking to end the Israeli blockade. Photo: Al Jazeera English

Arab and Islamic tourism to Gaza, as well as to Jerusalem and the West Bank, could also be greatly increased by agreements with Egypt on developing the Sinai Peninsula and the border areas with Gaza, Oman Shaban, the founder and director of the Gaza-based think tank, PalThink, argues. “Tourism in the Sinai Peninsula [which would also benefit Egypt directly] represents a golden opportunity for tens of thousands of Palestinian families in the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Jerusalem due to visitor appeal and modest costs,” he maintains.

Dating back to the 13th Century, the Pasha's Palace has been occupied by various rulers of Gaza, from the Mamlukes and Ottomans to Napolean and the British.  The UN is now helping to restore it as a major tourist site.  Photo: UNDP

Dating back to the 13th Century, the Pasha’s Palace has been occupied by various rulers of Gaza, from the Mamlukes and Ottomans to Napolean and the British. The UN is now helping to restore it as a major tourist site. Photo: UNDP

Talks between the PA and Israel that were underway to begin exploiting the rich reserves of natural gas, and possibly oil as well, lying just off Gaza’s shores in the Mediterranean, have also been put on hold. Valued at some $7 billion, they could help to end Gaza’s critical shortage of fuel and electricity as well as providing substantial revenues to build new schools, hospitals, roads, ports and even an airport, as well as vitally needed new water and wastewater facilities. Gas exports either through Egypt or Turkey, could boost the PA’s coffers for years to come, and help to reduce both Gaza and the West Bank’s huge dependence on international aid, speeding up the day when Palestine can become self-sufficient.

Gas reserves valued at $7 billion lying off the coast of Gaza could greatly reduce Palestine's dependence on foreign aid.  Photo:  Michel Chossudovsky

Gas reserves valued at $7 billion lying off the coast of Gaza could greatly reduce Palestine’s dependence on foreign aid. Photo: Michel Chossudovsky

Hamas’s newfound unity with the PA in Ramallah and the solidarity for Gaza shown by Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, as well as by people around the world, bodes well for bringing Gaza into a regional network that could benefit Israel as well as Palestine. But for that to happen, more pragmatic heads will need to surface in Tel Aviv and Cairo, as well as in Gaza City.

© Pamela Ann Smith

This is a publication of investpalestine.wordpress.com and is protected by international copyright laws. This article is for the reader’s personal use only, but may be re-distributed electronically with a credit to investpalestine.com.

An earlier version of this article appeared in the July, 2013 issue of The Middle East magazine.

The Eid in Gaza

Eid Mubarak!

Gaza’s resilience shines through, inspiring all of us, wherever we are.

A very blessed, and loving, Eid,

Pam

A rare moment of love and celebration.  Photo:  https://www.facebook.com/WardinaSafiyyah

A rare moment of love and celebration. Photo: https://www.facebook.com/WardinaSafiyyah



More to come, and thanks for viewing, as always,

A very happy Eid,

Pam

Gaza Meets Jericho

The new unity agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas looks, at long last, to be going ahead. And lots of Palestinians, on both sides of the divide, are delighted that the divisions have finally been resolved, or at least, negotiated.

Many Palestinians are celebrating, whatever the fears of the US, the EU and others about Hamas. Not least because it could lead to a lot of family re-unions across the borders, after decades of separation.

Once again, a time to celebrate?

Once again, a time to celebrate?


That could mean, too, real links between Gaza and the rich fertile fields of the Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Although many of these areas are currently off limits, being in Area C and under total Israeli control, the city of Jericho, the oldest inhabited city in the world, is free for tourists to visit.
Lying below sea level, it is the centre of one of the richest agricultural areas in the world.

Lying below sea level, Jericho is in the centre of one of the richest agricultural areas in the world, as well as a mecca for tourists.

While East Jerusalem and the West Bank attract some 1.5 million tourists each year, mainly from Europe and the US, as well as Israel and the neighbouring countries, the new unity agreement could also mean that many more Arabs, including members of the Palestinian diaspora living in the Arab Gulf states and Egypt, seek to visit Palestine … something that the Palestinian authorities are eager to encourage. For this, Bethlehem’s historic, landmark Jacir Palace Intercontinental is in a luxury class of its own.
The Jacir Palace Intercontinental in Bethlehem.

The Jacir Palace Intercontinental in Bethlehem.

More later on some of the thorny political issues, and surprisingly positive prospects, for investment and trade in Palestine in the near future.

Much depends, of course, on whether Netanyahu will side with the hawks, or liberals, in his Cabinet.

But, to get the flavour of the moment, here’s a bit about music and food.

 Daniel Barenboim, co-founder of the East-West Divan Orchestra (along with Edward Said), visits Gaza to encourage young musicians.

Daniel Barenboim, founder of the East-West Divan Orchestra (along with Edward Said), visits Gaza to encourage young musicians.

Mana’eesh, seafood specialities, roasted garlic and dill, buttery rice cooked in a clay pot. ... and more

Mana’eesh, seafood specialities, roasted garlic and dill, buttery rice cooked in a clay pot. … and more, all recommended by no-less than Anthony Bourdain.

Enjoy!

As always, thanks for reading, and viewing.

Pam

© Pamela Ann Smith

This is a publication of investpalestine.wordpress.com and is protected by international copyright laws. This article is for the reader’s personal use only, but may be re-distributed electronically with a credit to investpalestine.com.

(For picture credits, see the archives in the sidebar.)