By Jenny Long
The confrontation between Palestinian workers and Israeli soldiers at the Erez checkpoint on July 17, described by the Jerusalem Times as the "revolution of the hungry" has highlighted the desperate need for real change in the economic situation of Palestinians in the occupied territories and the new self-rule areas of Gaza and Jericho.
The bloody events, which resulted in the deaths of two Palestinians and the wounding of over 100, took place at the crossing point for Palestinian workers attempting to go to work inside the "green line".
Israeli government sources accuse Palestinian opposition groups of inciting violence, however, they fail to acknowledge the daily humiliation suffered by workers forced to wait in line from 1am to obtain the necessary permits. They also fail to mention the long-term economic degradation of the territories under Israeli occupation. Palestinian President Arafat has called for the deployment of international observers, an initiative opposed by Israeli Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin.
The clash drew attention once more to Gaza's deplorable economy — in spite of the peace process. Widespread unemployment and starvation characterise the area which, while formally under autonomous Palestinian control, access in and out remains under tight Israeli military control. Gaza's economy also remains dependent on Israel.
This situation, which has reached boil-over point, is the direct result of 27 years of Israel's policy of destroying any competition from Palestine. For instance, agriculture, Gaza's economic backbone, has been restricted to produce not grown in Israel.
Since March 1993, Israel has imposed a state of siege on the occupied territories, reducing the number of Palestinian workers allowed to cross the green line from 120,000 to 40,000. This has exacerbated the already distressing level of unemployment and poverty in Gaza.
In the July 22 Jerusalem Times, executive editor Samer Renno stressed that in order to end its dependence on the Israeli economy for jobs and avoid the re-occurrence of the Erez massacre, the Palestinian economy had to be developed. He called for: an internationally-monitored investigation into the incident; an end to the Israeli-enforced closure of the autonomous Gaza Strip and Jericho; Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, including Jerusalem; and infrastructure projects to get people back to work.