Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

3 May, 2015

Xinhua Interview: Situation in Gaza miserable with high unemployment rate: Palestinian minister

by Osama Radi, Omer Othmani

GAZA, April 30 (Xinhua) — The daily living situation is seriously miserable in the blockaded Gaza Strip, where unemployment rate in the impoverished coastal enclave climbed to 60 percent, a senior Palestinian official told Xinhua in an exclusive interview on the eve of the International Labor Day.

Ma’moun Abu Shahla, minister of labor in the Palestinian unity government formed last June, spoke to Xinhua at his office in Gaza city about the growing rates of poverty and unemployment in the Gaza Strip.

“The reality of workers here is difficult and painful amid a relevant growth of poverty and unemployment rates,” Abu Shahla said, adding that “it is all due to an endless Israeli blockade that has been imposed on Gaza for eight years and damaged its economy.”

Israel imposed a tight blockade on the Gaza Strip and considered it a hostile entity right after the Islamic Hamas movement seized control of the enclave by force in 2007. However, following international pressure, Israel hasn’t completely lifted the blockade, but eased it for humanitarian reasons.

“Over the past seven years, Israel waged three large-scale air and ground wars on the Gaza Strip, which not only killed or wounded people, but also destroyed the economic infrastructure,” said Abu Shahla, noting that “500 economic establishments were destroyed in the Gaza Strip.”

Asking about what he would say on the eve of the Labor Day, Abu Shahla called on all the concerned Arab and international organizations and unions to pay attention to the miserable situation of workers in the Gaza Strip and to help ending the Israeli blockade.

The Labor Day, which will be on Friday, is approaching after nine months of last summer’s large-scale air and ground military offensive waged by Israel on the Gaza Strip, which lasted for 50 days and left large destruction in housing, infrastructure, economy and agriculture.

Even the process of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip is not moving properly, which has been stuck despite the pledges of Arab and international donors who convened in Cairo last October and decided a donation of 5.4 billion U.S. dollars for the process.

“The current stalemate in the process of reconstruction in the Gaza Strip has mounted the severe growth of unemployment and poverty and increased the economic stagnancy. Starting a real reconstruction would certainly create 100,000 job opportunities in the first month of its start,” said Abu Shahla.

He stressed that “lifting the imposed Israeli restrictions on the shipment of constructions materials would create jobs and limit the rate of unemployment. Abu Shahla also noted that launching a real reconstruction plan would survive the economy and push it until it reaches its normal standard.”

The unity government complained that the Palestinians had only received less than 10 percent of what the donor countries had pledged for the Gaza reconstruction.

“The Ministry of Labor finds so many difficulties to restrict the high rate of unemployment in Gaza; but our efforts to do so have never stopped,” said Abu Shahla, giving an example that his ministry received 21 million euros (about 23.36 million U.S. dollars) from the Italian government for projects to limit the rate of unemployment in Gaza.

He unveiled that his ministry works on two projects: the first is to create temporary job opportunities for unemployed Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and the second project is to establish small workshops to employ young men who newly graduated from universities.

Abu Shahla also said that his ministry signed several agreements with Sweden and the United Nations Developing Program (UNDP) to employ 1,000 newly graduated students in the fields of nursing and engineering, adding that contacts were made to employ 20,000 workers from Gaza in Qatar.

“We had an agreement with Qatar to send workers in different fields and also newly graduated students in various specialties to work there,” said Abu Shahla, adding that “there are 50 teachers waiting for the crossings to be reopened to work at Qatari schools.”

He said that during the 1970s and 80s, there were 150,000 workers in Israel, adding that “Israel still refuses to take workers from the Gaza Strip and the excuse is as usual — security reasons.”