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ILO calls for lifting Israeli border closures

By Fred Gaboury, People's Weekly World,
8 June 2002

Juan Samavia, director general of the International Labor Organization (ILO), called the situation in the Occupied Territories of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza Strip a socio-economic meltdown resulting from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the deep humanitarian crisis that Palestinian families are living through.

The report was prepared by an ILO mission that traveled the region April 27 to May 6, a time when, the ILO says, dialogue between the two sides was virtually non-existent.

Samavia said a gradual lifting of the border closures imposed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) would go a long way toward alleviating the dire situation of Palestinian workers and families. He added that measures to resume employment of Palestinian workers in Israel would serve to reduce the dramatically high level of unemployment. Both these measures would greatly ease the present crisis and facilitate the resumption of political discussions on a peaceful settlement of the conflict, he added.

The authors of the report, titled The Situation of Workers in the Occupied Arab Territories, said all families in the region want a situation where parents are at work and children at school, with security in the streets and peace in the community. This continues to be the innermost aspiration of the large majority of Palestinians and Israelis. The world must help them to get there, they said.

Any resolution of the conflict must be based on dialogue where the voice of workers in the occupied Arab territories and their families get a fair hearing in order to assist them in their hope of achieving conditions of decent work, Samavia said. At the same time, the voices of workers in Israel must be heard and listened to. No one can be satisfied with the present situation or, worse still, a further escalation of conflic/t.

ILO investigators reported that in 2001 Israeli border closures and check points were responsible for a decline of nearly 50 percent in the real wages of Palestinian workers in Israel, while the revenue of the Palestinian Authority plummeted by more than 70 percent.

Preliminary ILO estimates suggest that unemployment could have reached nearly 43 percent in the occupied territories during the beginning of 2002.

The percentage of the population living in poverty (less than $2.10 per day) increased from 21 percent in 1999 to 33 percent in 2000 and 46 percent in 2001. The figure could possibly reach 62 percent in 2002.

The ILO report says 600 houses were destroyed in Gaza, leaving more than 5,000 persons homeless. In Jenin, 4,000 persons were put on the streets by the complete destruction of 150 buildings and severe damage to some 200 more. The World Bank estimates the cost of reconstruction of public and private buildings and infrastructure in the West Bank alone at some $432 million.

Israel has not escaped the upheaval, either. Unemployment rose continuously throughout 2001, from 8.1 percent in the first quarter to 10.5 in the last quarter.

The ILO report concluded that both Palestinian and Israeli populations are paying a very high price for occupation and violence—which has become in practice a widespread humanitarian crisis.

Samavia said the present situation cannot continue. Poverty anywhere constitutes a danger to prosperity everywhere,M/q> he said, adding, security in Israel cannot be separated from security for the Palestinian population living in the occupied territories.