Friday, August 14, 2020

Circumventing Israeli Restrictions: A Palestinian-Israeli Fair Trade Movement

By Leona Vicario - May 28, 2013
Section: [Main News] [Culture]
Tags: [economy]

Photos by COSPE.
As the Palestinian Authority is undergoing a severe fiscal crisis as a result of the combined effects of the global economic crisis, the reduced influx of donor funding and the withholding of tax revenues by Israel, consumption levels are falling in the territories and the Palestinian economy’s growth rate is slowing down, threatening to undermine the positive state-building achievements of the past few years and worsening the situation for the most vulnerable populations, in particular in area C. The current unemployment rate in Palestine stands at over 30 per cent of the population, affecting mainly young people and, more specifically, young people with university degrees. 

Considering the high dependence of the Palestinian economy on foreign aid and the wave of austerity policies that is sweeping a great majority of donor countries, the prospects are quite grim for Palestinians.

On top of making the Palestinian Authority’s budget contingent on donors’ development policies and budgets, strong aid dependence on several different donors with different agendas tends to result in fragmented project-oriented spending, rather than in the comprehensive and coherent economic policies which should underlie the state-building efforts..  

In that regard, one of the main issues – and the biggest obstacle to a sustainable economy – is the severely under-developed private sector in the territories, stifled by Israeli restrictions. Indeed, Israel not only controls the movement of people and goods both within the West Bank and to and from it as well as Gaza – effectively controlling access to export markets –, it also controls access to the main resources such as water, electricity and raw materials. Adding to that the deeply discriminatory building permit regime in area C (60% of the West Bank) and the widespread confiscation of land, the consequence is a private sector that has absolutely no room for growth. As a World Bank Ad Hoc Committee stated in a March 2012 report, the creation of a favorable business environment “will require unleashing of the Palestinian private sector’s potential.”; the first requirement being lifting Israeli restrictions, which affect the Palestinian economy greatly.

In the absence of any hope so far for a political solution to this issue, some good-willed individuals on both sides of the wall have decided to try and take the matter into their own hands.

An initiative called “Fair Trade, Fair Peace” was born out of this complex situation in order to “create real local economic opportunities to promote a real solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” as Gianni Toma explains. Toma is the Desk Officer for Palestine and Israel in COSPE, the Italian NGO which focuses on the development of emerging countries that leads this program. 
The European Union gives financial support to the “Fair Trade, Fair Peace” project, which brings together the Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans, the Fair Trade Movements in Palestine and Israel, and Sindyanna of Galilee, the only fair trade certified producer working within Israel’s Arab sector. 
Under a gendered approach, 200 female Palestinian artisans and 20 women from Kufr Kana (a village inside the Green Line) have been hired and trained in a project aimed at improving fair trade handcraft products, such as olive oil, soaps, olive wood carving, embroidery, etc. Afterwards, those manufactured goods are exported to Italy through the Israeli partner, Sindyanna. 
Chiara Carmignani, the COSPE Country representative, relates that the idea of this collaboration in the fair trade field existed before but that the NGO has just now found out the way “to materialize it in something sustainable and more structured.” 
“The main result is, on one hand, the products. They are made from the two sides of the [Apartheid] Wall, from the artisans from Palestine and the artisans from Galilee with the big effort from the Jewish Israeli partner. But another important result is the possibility to meet each other, because everybody knows that it is quite difficult for the Palestinians in the West Bank to have the chance to meet the Israelis, especially the Jewish Israelis. And this is an important point that we want to achieve.”
In regards to the political context, movement restrictions and the control over the exports are a few of the realities that this project has to face.
“We already have an open channel to export the products through our Israeli partner, but the problem that we face is the practical realization of the collaboration: bringing the group from one place to another. For example, some of the people taking part in the project in Bethlehem could not come to the presentation of the project in Jerusalem because they did not get the permits from Israel. And we also have to hide the products on our way to Israel, when we cross the checkpoints,” Chiara states. 
In her opinion, the collaboration itself is not easy.
“In the idea, both organizations, the Israeli and the Palestinian, wanted to work together. But when you come to the ground, some complications appear.” As an example, Chiara shares one story. “Our project has a logo but its design was not easy. Each organization is involved with its country and you have to be careful with which words you use and even within the organizations there are differences among the people: some people are more moderate, some people care less about the meaning or [about] certain words, etc.”
During the current year, an Israeli-Palestinian delegation will visit several fair trade fairs in Italy but the project expects to go further than this. 
“The success of this initiative started with the aim to give the support to the peace process and to contribute to the dialogue and collaboration between the Israeli and Palestinian civil society to change the context,” Gianni points out. 
“The center of our alliance is to give economic opportunities to vulnerable people. We consider the dignity for the workers and their labor rights as the base of the project. We believe that the economy is a very important way to support a peace process that must be focused on human rights and on the end of the Israeli occupation. It must be focused on justice— this one is the goal we are looking for,” Gianni remarks. “Our Israeli partner is aware of the political situation in Palestine and they have a clear agenda about it. And this is not common right now. There are some projects that do not have a clear goal regarding to the Palestinian situation. But for us, the peace and the revision of politics are the pillars of our plans.” 

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