By: George Kurzom
Exclusive to Environment and Development Horizons:
The agricultural economic policies of the Palestinian Authority focus on the adoption of a “free market” that includes focusing on agricultural production for exports and promoting a capitalist mode of production that links the local production with global markets. This free market is based on several values including the principles of supply and demand in foreign markets and the commitment to the imposed global specifications designed by global agencies who try to stifle the local traditional agricultural patterns and to transform the traditional farmers into waged workers in the private companies supported by western development agencies.
What we see for example, is the phenomenon of private sector exploitation over small Palestinian farmers through the extensive palm cultivation. Such practices of palm cultivation drain massive amounts of water at the same time where diversified farming and strategic crop production that is supposed to cover local needs, are actually declining. However, this has led to the decline of local sustainable production capacity and the increased Palestinian food dependency on the occupation.
The logic of free market follows the values of capital accumulation and the generation of continuous profits, which contradict the local market needs, the ability of Palestinians to achieve food self-sufficiency under occupation and the principles of fair distribution. The West Bank and Gaza Strip both suffer from the chaos of free market policy and the Palestinian private capital which prefers to play the role of merchant and comprador instead of being the producer and the investor in the natural resources and lands.
Unfortunately, a framework of productive development that follows the principles of national sovereignty over our food and the protection of the agricultural lands is not a priority for the globalized Palestinian private capital. This is clear through the construction of shared industrial zones – foreign, Israeli and Palestinian – and the construction of installations and buildings on vast green areas and agricultural lands. In fact, a recent official decision has been taken to construct a cement factory on thousands of acres in Al-Rashaida area (Hebron), where about a third of the livestock in the West Bank and Gaza Strip is located and where lies a natural reserve that has water wells allowing surrounding families to graze their cattle. The project has been announced as ready to be implemented, regardless of the result of the ongoing environmental impact study of the factory, alongside the fact that the establishment of industrial facilities on a natural reserve is illegal.
We are not against the Palestinian industrial investment, but not when it directly threatens the local agriculture and livestock.
Moreover, the families of Al-Rashaida expressed that they own a part of the land that is intended for the establishment of the factory (they have documents confirming their ownership of plot No. 3). The construction of the cement factory might force the families to migrate because of the potential environmental degradation that will accompany the construction and the activities of the factory, where if families do become displaced, the lands would become at risk of Israeli confiscation for settlement building.
Since the Palestinian Authority is a non-sovereign authority politically and economically, its adoption of free market principles have paralyzed its ability to protect the national agricultural production and the local food and agricultural products. Note that in the case of Palestine (under occupation) this protection is necessary to enhance the steadfastness of Palestinian farmers, because the absence of such protection has repelled many small farmers from the agricultural sector. This is particularly the case after crushing the foundations of traditional agricultural production patterns that historically formed a shield of protection for a large number of Palestinian families. Ultimately, this has led to the destruction of the traditional family-based agricultural sector that was self-sufficient and based on small holdings and local marketing mechanisms.
Not to mention that the "Free Market" has allowed the Israeli agricultural products to flood the Palestinian market and to increase their control over it. In fact the Israeli occupation imposes an uneven forced competition between its subsidized agricultural exports and the Palestinian products that are deprived from national protection and that have failed to get Palestinian priority in the local market.
In fact, this agricultural economic reality is in line with the historical policy of the Israeli occupation to destroy the basic Palestinian products by preventing their protection from Israeli and foreign competition and by encouraging the transformation of traditional Palestinian farmers into luxury farming that only benefits a few number of big landlords and merchants.
Translated by: Ghadeer Kamal Zaineh