A report released by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) paints a worrisome picture of the employment situation in Gaza:

•45.2% of the working population is unemployed

• Between the first and the second half of 2010, private sector employment declined by nearly 8%

• One sector where jobs were created was construction. This was mainly fueled by external donors funding the clearing of rubble, and the rehabilitation of destroyed infrastructure and housing after the 2009 war

• Between the first and the second half of 2010, public sector employment rose by nearly 3%

• While nominal and real wages rose by about 2% between the first and the second half of 2010, real wages have been slashed by 34% since 2006, when the Israeli blockade began

• The refugee population in Gaza is suffering disproportionately from unemployment – only 37% of working-age refugees were part of the workforce in the second half of 2010

• Nearly 40% of the non-refugee population in Gaza works for the public sector

• UNRWA accounted for about 40 percent of private services employment and about 11 percent of all private sector employment in the reporting period

The UNRWA report highlights two areas of concern: first, that Palestinian refugees in Gaza are marginalized, compared to the general population. Second, and perhaps more significantly, the proportion and growth of public sector employment suggests that Hamas will be able to maintain its popularity in Gaza. Being one of the main employers, and a major provider of public goods and services, the Hamas government is entrenching the notion that, in the face of the unjust Israeli blockade, they are able to help support the population.

What’s worrisome from a policy perspective is that Hamas’ growing ability to be seen as a provider in Gaza is going to make it that much more difficult to delegitimize their rule. This ability to be a major employer and pay people salaries exists in spite of the fact that Hamas is recognized as a terrorist group internationally, and receives no external financial support from donors. Furthermore, the statistics speak for themselves. UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said “It is hard to understand the logic of a man-made policy which deliberately impoverishes so many and condemns hundreds of thousands of potentially productive people to a life of destitution.”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is infinitely complex, and the blockade of Gaza is but one dimension of it. That said, if the goal of this policy is to alienate Hamas – hopefully into oblivion – it is not succeeding. The people of Gaza yearn for jobs and decent lives, like everyone else in the world. Whoever is making that possible is going to win their favors.

Photo credit: David Berkowitz Flickr Stream – Views of the Gaza Strip from Israel, 2009

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