Hass: Drinking the Sea at Gaza and Diwan and Shaban: Development Under Adversity
Amira Hass has written a stunningly beautiful and powerful book about Gaza and the people who live there. Hass, an Israeli journalist working for the newspaper Ha'Aretz, did something no other Israeli journalist has done: she lived in Gaza for the four years she reported on it. Hass did not go to Gaza in 1993 intending to stay; she went to cover a story and found she could not leave. What compelled her to remain was not only the continued injustice and severity of the Israeli occupier but also the dignity and resilience of the Palestinian occupied.
Hass gives voice to the Palestinian people, and they speak eloquently and poignantly about so many aspects of their lives, including the importance of their families, the emotional and tenacious ties to homes they long ago lost, the spiritual impact of displacement, the degrading descent into poverty, the daily humiliations and the diminution of the self that results, and the corruption and authoritarianism of the Palestinian Authority and the sense of personal and collective betrayal this has created.
Hass focuses largely on the human side of the Palestinian condition and through her perceptive and often brilliant analyses and firsthand experiences, the reader gains profound insight into the emotional, psychological, and intellectual essence of the people of Gaza, and the reality of daily life and the extreme hardship and almost suffocating paralysis that presently characterizes it. The reader also is embraced by the indefatigable spirit of the Palestinians, their hope, resolve, and even optimism. The effect is compelling and, at times, haunting, as when she recounts Um Sabr and her younger brother talking about the pain of being uprooted while simultaneously living so close to their former village. The brother concludes: "When I was able to work in Israel, I always went past our fields, and I'd think to myself, what did we do to deserve this?" (pp. 159-60).
The author reflects on what it means to remain so deeply connected to places most Palestinians never have seen: "But in mentioning the names [of villages], the two took their place in an essential human chain that challenges history and defies the passage of time with an individual and collective inner truth that refuses to die" (p. 161).
Hass is unequivocal about many points but perhaps the three most important are the continued oppression of Palestinians in the "era of peace," the dominant and primary role still played by the Israeli government in Palestinian subjugation, and the planned, deliberate, and unchanged nature of Israel's policy toward the Palestinians post-Oslo, a policy that still aims to ensure political weakness, economic dependence, and social fracture. One Palestinian sums up the frustration well:
"My next door neighbor has a fantasy of kidnapping an Israeli soldier," says Abu Jamil from Jabalia. "'What will you demand in exchange?' we ask him. 'The release of all Palestinian prisoners?' 'The prisoners can go to hell,' he says. 'So what do you want?' we ask. 'More leverage for Arafat in the negotiations?' 'To hell with the negotiations,' he says. 'I just want my work permit back.'" (p. 282)
Drinking the Sea at Gaza is an exceptional book--passionate, beautiful, disturbing--and should be read by all seeking to understand Palestinians and the tragedy that still befalls them.
In Development Under Adversity: The Palestinian Economy in Transition, Ishac Diwan and Radwan Shaban provide an excellent study of the Palestinian economy since the signing of the 1993 Oslo agreement. Diwan and Shaban are both economists, the former at the World Bank and the latter at the Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS) and the Georgia Institute of Technology. The contributors to the volume are almost all economists at MAS and the World Bank, and the book draws heavily on the rese arch of these two organizations.
The book's introduction provides an historical background of the Palestinian economy over the past two decades and reviews the restrictive effect of the occupation on economic development. Part 1, which focuses on recent developments and economic problems, follows with an interesting discussion of worsening economic outcomes since 1994--growing poverty levels, high unemployment rates, declining employment in Israel, falling per capita incomes, and dramatic declines in trade--and areas of relative economic improvement, such as banking and construction. The juxtaposition of decline and improvement is striking, underscoring the structural liabilities of the economy. Part 1 continues with a chapter that provides a useful political framework within which to view economic developments since 1993. This is followed by a telling discussion of the damaging (short- and long-term) impact of closure and permit policies on Palestinian labor, trade, and income.
Part 2, which occupies the majority of the book, focuses on the structural assets of the Palestinian economy and identifies the conditions under which the economy can realize its enormous potential. Some of the strategies for promoting growth even under current adverse conditions include building an institutional system of governance with an efficient civil service and minimal fiscal deficits; strengthening and working with the NGO and private sectors especially in the delivery of health, education, welfare, and infrastructural services; using the extensive international network of skilled and wealthy expatriates; creating a viable tax system; and promoting an investment-oriented public expenditure program.
Part 2 also provides an analysis of donor aid and the important contribution of such aid to sustainable growth. The underlying premise of this section is that the Palestinian Authority and the donor community together have the power to implement certain economic policies that will generate economic improvement. The question, of course, remains, Will they, particularly the PA, exercise such power and do so effectively?
The authors acknowledge that in "the long-term, the Palestinian economy cannot grow on a sustainable basis without a favorable resolution of the peace process" (p. 67) and that there are "some policies--such as changes in trade regime, taxation, or land zoning--[that] hinge on further negotiations with Israel or resolution of the final status issues" (p. 67).
It is not really a flaw of this book that it attempts to articulate strategic economic choices in the absence of a political settlement. Arguably, one could say this is the study's strength. However, Israel's role continues to be primary. In the final analysis, the growth and development of the Palestinian economy (or lack thereof) is fundamentally and largely predicated on Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. Israel is the critical arbiter of Palestine's future. If Amira Hass is correct in her analysis, this future looks grim indeed.
Sara Roy is a research associate at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University. Her most recent publication (as editor) is The Economics of Middle East Peace: A Reassessment, Research in Middle East Economics no. 3 (Stamford, CT: JAI Press, 1999).