ILO expert Philippe Egger reports on workers’ situation in Occupied Arab Territories - May 31, 2007

Arab occupied territories have seen a rapid and drastic drop in average income levels unprecedented in economic history, according to a new report from the ILO on the occupied Arab territories. ILO expert Philippe Egger was part of the mission sent to the region to assess the impact on workers there.

Date issued: 31 May 2007 | Size/duration: 00:07:18 (12.6 MB)
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Interview transcript:

There’s been a huge increase in the levels of poverty, in fact poverty has risen by a staggering 26 per cent of the population. That’s 63 per cent of the total population are now believed to be living in poverty. This is particularly dramatic at a time when the whole world is focusing on trying to reduce poverty, and indeed is meeting with some successes at least in some regions, but here, not because of any natural calamity or economic crisis, there is a huge jump in the levels of poverty. The per capita GDP, the average income per head has also declined by some 10 per cent in 2006. Compared to ‘99, before the intifada uprising, that means a 40 per cent drop in levels of average incomes. Now this is much worse than the great depression of the 1930s, this is much worse than the Asian crisis of the late 1990s, in fact it is unprecedented in economic history to have such a rapid and drastic drop in average income levels.

The main cause that was identified by the ILO mission but also by other national and international observers, is the measures taken by the military occupation to control the movement of persons and of goods of Palestinians. Because of security concerns of Israel, the military force has put in place a very sophisticated system of physical controls on roads and of permits given to the Palestinian population that makes movement of people to go to school for children, to go to markets for housewives or business people, to export goods, to see relatives, whatever movements are implied in daily life, has become an ordeal for Palestinian people because of these very very sophisticated and manifold controls of movement.

What is happening is that because of the concerns of security for Israel, these controls are being put in place according to the occupied power but the result is that the livelihoods of the Palestinians who are under occupation are being jeopardized. That means that the insecurity of Palestinian people in the end is a source of insecurity for Israeli people as well.

In the immediate, one has to try to alleviate the sufferings of Palestinian people. This can be done immediately through humanitarian assistance but more importantly trying to shift humanitarian assistance towards development aid supporting markets, enterprises and investment but that in turn requires some measures on the part of Israel and the occupying forces to release somewhat the grip they have on the movement of people and goods in the Palestinian society and economy. Our assessment that it is possible whilst preserving these legitimate security concerns of Israel to release somewhat this grip and to enable Palestinian society to function so much more normally and enable their businesses, their markets, their society to recover some of the ground lost over the preceding twelve months if not earlier.

The ILO obviously has discussions with employers and workers organizations. It is very difficult for them under the occupation to carry out their normal activities, not only of their members but obviously of themselves as organizations for them to meet, to have congresses, meetings as an organization of employers or as an organization of workers is extremely difficult because of the difficulties linked to the movement of persons, and one of their first demands is basically to be able to operate normally in their functions as workers organizations to be able to meet as workers and in their functions as employers organizations to be able to meet as employers. In one meeting we had with employers organizations, the cry that they conveyed to us was that they were telling us we, as Palestinian business people, we know how to fish, we do not want to receive fish, we just want to be able to be allowed to fish. And in fact, Palestinian business people are very talented and skilful business people but their skills are being wasted now because they simply cannot put their talent into effect because of the closure systems.