Building Economic Independence
By Sam Bahour
April 19, 2007
Note: The following is a talk given at the Second Annual Conference
on Non-Violent Popular Resistance in the Palestinian village of
First, allow me to salute the people of Bil'in. Your steadfastness
is being registered in the annals of history with every meter of
Wall being built and every olive tree ripped from it roots by this
I've been asked to speak briefly on Building Economic Independence.
A complicated topic but let me start by posting a question.
How do we integrate a future Palestinian economy into a U.S.-
dominated globalized world today, while yet still under foreign
military occupation -- an occupation operating in the full view of
the international community? Yes, I speak of those 3rd parties that
are signatories to the 4th Geneva Convention that, for the last
year, and the majority through today, have opted to apply economic
and political boycotts and sanctions against the occupied people,
driving us to a nation of poverty, crime and lawlessness. How do we
do all of this while our very own leadership drinks tea on a
bimonthly basis with that very same occupier that is removing, by
daily actions on the ground, the option of a meaningful Palestinian
For 40 years, Israel linked the occupied Palestinian territory
economy to its own. By design, an economic umbilical cord was
weaved into every one of our sectors. To fast forward for the sake
of time, it is worthy to note that the Oslo Peace Accords kept that
umbilical cord fully attached, while at the same time laying on the
Palestinian side the colossal burden of meeting the challenges of
economic development without having the access to the full toolbox
of economic resources.
State donors entered the picture. Instead of rising to the
obligations placed upon them in the 4th Geneva Convention to ensure
no harm be done to the occupied people, the 'protected people' as we
are classified under international law, these 3rd party states began
feeding us fish instead of assisting us to learn how to fish for
ourselves. In short, donors have become accomplices to the economic
repression and sustaining of the status quo that is simmering us to
death as we stand and struggle here today.
Donors are not the only players in the equation. Sustainable
development cannot be based on the agenda and political moods of
foreign donors. Palestinian business and Palestinian consumers are,
or should I say should, be the foundations in which we build our
economy upon. It would be unfair to say the Palestinian business
community has failed, it has not. Many businesses have remained
steadfast in the face of unimaginable odds. Many others have been
exceedingly successful. However, the success criteria of many of
the movers and shakers in our business community needs scrutinized.
Is success a single firm extracting an annual $100 million profit
from the occupied people for a basic service? Is success
considering building of industrial zones between this Apartheid Wall
and the Green Line? Is success the monopolization of the various
sectors and blocking new investments and new jobs from being
created? As I noted, thousands of business are doing amazing things
to keep their doors open, but a few movers and shakers have no
intention of moving or shaking the occupation out of our lives and
it is these elements of our own society we must hold accountable.
Accountability cannot come from an expired Authority, pre-occupied
with factional politics, despite our love of those trying to make it
an operational body. The Palestinian citizen, the Palestinian
consumer, and those in solidarity with Palestinians must carry the
I cannot comprehend how we can peacefully co-exist with Israeli
settlement products on our shelves.
I cannot comprehend how we can allow Israeli firms to dump their
products and services into our market with no repercussions
I cannot comprehend how 3rd party states refuse to take on their
obligations under the 4th Geneva Convention when they see the
economic roadblocks, checkpoints and Walls that Israel has
Our land is being grabbed by the hour. Through what our good
friend, Jeff Halper, coined a "matrix of control" Israel is making
sure land is not sufficient for daily life, let alone economic
independence. The hand of occupation controls the lands we can
cultivate and the destiny of the trees that we plant.
We are forced to buy our water from the Israeli water company,
paying more than Israelis buying from the same source but using less
per capita. The hand of occupation controls our water facets.
All of the West Bank electricity is bought from the Israeli Electric
Company and resold to us. The hand of occupation controls our light
Every telephone call all you make abroad is forced to go through an
Israeli operator. The hand of occupation controls our
Every laborer wanting to work in Israel, or on their land west of
the wall for that matter, must be issued an Israeli permit. The
hand of occupation controls the sweat of our workers.
For the first time ever in our history, over a 1/3 of Palestinians
in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem desire to voluntarily
emigrate. Over a 1/3! I should note that International
Humanitarian Law is clear about war crimes. The bloody events of
1948 and 1967 and 2002 were all war crimes no doubt – a military
occupation, drunk on power – still drink on power – bent on
destroying the fabric of Palestinian society with results well known
to you all. But it is an equal war crime under the laws of
occupation for the "occupying power," that's Israel if we have
forgotten, to create the conditions for the occupied people to
voluntary to be left with no option but to leave their homes in
search of security and a livelihood. I add to this the new Israeli
policy of outright denying entry to those of us that are prevented
by Israel of ascertaining residency. This denied entry policy is
separating families and contributing to faster pace of our brain
drain. I tend to call all of this a sterile ethnic cleansing, one
that happens one family at a time, far from any media and
This is our reality. A reality many try to brush aside or under the
carpet while pretending to be building or contributing to a viable
state. Such a reality is incompatible with viability. Such a
reality is not conducive to building economic independence.
So what do we do? Fold up? Hide under a rock and hope for the
best? Accept and acquiesce the foreign military occupation that has
kept its boot on our necks for the last 40 years and which has
separated us from our people for 60 years?
NO. NOT THIS PEOPLE! We may not yet know how to win and end this
nightmare, but I can assure you we definitely know how not to lose.
As we, as a community, make our structural adjustment to our
internal politics, new leadership is bound to emerge.
As we learn and master the tools of our oppressors, our just case
will be articulated online, offline, around the wall, and over the
As we focus on what matters in life: people, family, community and
our inalienable rights, more focus will be placed on our ability to
create Global Development Partnerships, our own kind of GDP, rather
than chase the World Bank's traditional measure of GDP. Our GDP
includes all of those laborious hours mothers spend up keeping their
children's sanity and maintaining family life. Our GDP includes the
efforts that all our political prisoners spend remaining steadfast
in Israeli prisons. Our GDP is Global in scope, Developmental in
substance, and in Partnership with peace and justice loving people
wherever they reside.
I'm sorry if I disappointed you by not talking about the many
economic accomplishments over the last decade, several which I had
the honor of contributing to. It is not that I'm not proud that,
under odds most communities would have buckled under, we have built
productive companies, a stock market, a banking industry, an ICT
industry, an olive oil industry, a furniture industry, and a
pharmaceutical industry, among others.
These are all important but they are all trappings of a status quo
that is taking us to a level of despair, unknown to our struggle.
In a normal environment, as a private sector player, I would yearn
for return on investments. In Palestine, I challenge my peers to
translate that return to:
The return to international law;
The return to recognized borders; The return of our political
prisoners to their families;
The return of our refugees; and
The return to community building.
These returns are the only returns that will put us on the path
toward economic independence.
In closing, I want to note a quote passed to me by an Israeli friend
of mine in Jerusalem. One of the Jewish sages, someone famous in
Judaism, from the 17th Century; Rabbi Nachman from Bratzlav once
said, "There is nothing that is more whole than a broken heart".
My friend said that "this is not so easy to see from within." I
Thank you for your attention.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant and
activist based in Ramallah/Al-Bireh and may be reached at
sbahour @ palnet.com.
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