A fascinating insight into the realities in Gaza in the London Review of Books. Deprivation, corruption, desperation, an Israeli siege and Egyptian bad behaviour:
According to World Bank officials, 80 per cent of Gaza’s imports currently come through the tunnels. Once black-market smuggling had turned into Gaza’s formal trade, Hamas inspectors began to impose controls and licensing fees. Some tunnel merchants now operate a telephone order service and send out catalogues: office equipment ordered by phone arrives in 48 hours. ‘Goods move faster now than when Rafah terminal was open,’ a businessman told me. With the rise in trade, prices have fallen. Egyptian goods cost less than Israel’s, sometimes even after Hamas and the smugglers have taken their cut. Petrol is half its pre-siege price.
There are precious few macroeconomic data on the effect all this is having. ‘For us Gaza’s a bit of a black hole,’ a World Bank economist reliant on Ramallah’s figures admits. Even so, he says, unemployment rates in May dropped 3 per cent from a high of 32 per cent. ‘My tiler’s gone underground,’ a UN civil servant complained to me: he couldn’t compete with the tunnel smugglers, who pay four times the £12 daily wage he was offering.
More tangible signs of recovery can be seen among Gaza’s numerous money-changers, who help smugglers launder their earnings. The weight of a million dollars in hundred dollar bills to the nearest decimal point trips off their tongues. In June, the Gaza-based Bank of Palestine doubled the size of its trading rooms, which are linked electronically to Nablus, Cairo and Dubai stock markets, and installed rows of plasma screens. With investors keen to park their profits, share-trading volumes doubled in a year, and this summer the Bank of Palestine share price reached an all-time high. Traders who used to go home at lunchtime now stay till four.