The Livelihoods of Gazans and Their Work Lost in the Wake of War

Esraa Al Araj
Published on 25.06.2024
Reading time: 7 minutes

The events of October 7 changed the metrics for unemployment and all work in Gaza, as the unemployment rate rose to unprecedented levels according to the Palestinian Statistics Center, reaching 75 percent. This translates into the loss of 200,000 jobs during this war, coinciding with the halt of the economy, and an unknown fate.

Gazans build their dreams “brick by brick” throughout their lifetimes, through jobs that distract them from the hardship of living and the lack of opportunities, in a small spot where over 2.3 million people live. Now, they have ended up in a war that targeted all aspects of their lives, after enduring the difficulties of wars that occurred in previous years.

Awn Abu Sharar lost everything he built over the past seven years. Abu Sharar worked in the Gaza courts, both in the procedural and the legitimate system, independently, through his own office in “Muhamat”, an institution which he founded with a group of his colleagues and which  continued to operate even after the outbreak of the war, with his workplace being in the Al-Rimal area in Gaza City.

Abu Sharar tells Daraj: “It was a very difficult journey with many details, because being a lawyer is a profession that requires personal effort, and because it is not a job with a fixed monthly salary. From my graduation in 2017 to when I launched my own practice four years ago, until October 7 of last year, it was a long and difficult journey during which I built myself bit by bit, and praise be to God. During the last three years, I managed to achieve real progress, but all this progress has ended because of the war.”

Abu Sharar points out that the war caused the destruction of his workplace, including personal belongings, files, and documents belonging to clients, saying: “I mean, I don’t know, they’re not there at all. Even when I tried to find them or search for them, I couldn’t find them.” He concludes: “There’s no way to return to my work. I’ve lost everything in my own office.”

Abu Sharar has lost all the cases and work that were entrusted to him before the war. For this particular profession in Gaza, everything has come to an end. Even the Palace of Justice where pleadings took place has been completely wiped out. Starting anew seems impossible because, as is known, practicing law is an accumulative profession. Therefore, Abu Sharar is considering leaving Gaza entirely and working elsewhere.

Abu Sharar is not the only one contemplating leaving Gaza, albeit reluctantly, due to what he has lost in terms of work and future prospects during this war. There’s also Hussein Abu Aqlin, a graduate of the Geography Department, who has been forced by the circumstances of life in Gaza and the lack of opportunities to work for the past two years in a supermarket with a weekly salary. The war has now eliminated even this hope and work, leaving him without a job or income due to the destruction of the place and displacement from north Gaza to the south.

Abu Aqlin is forced to provide for his family’s needs through aid provided by UNRWA and international and charitable institutions. He hopes to find work after the war ends, even if it’s outside Gaza, provided there is a good opportunity and a suitable salary to support his family.

The devastating war waged by Israel on Gaza is enough to drive minds and talents to emigrate. The sector has become an uninhabitable and unworkable place, except perhaps in the field of reconstruction or within the limited institutions that the Israeli army has not targeted yet. Numerous forecasts indicate that Gaza needs 80 years and enormous financial resources to return to its former state. Can dreams and hopes be left in limbo until alternatives are found?!

Academics Disheartened

Kamal al-Sheikh Eid, a specialized doctor at the Faculty of Agriculture at Al-Azhar University and the Technical Director of the Agricultural Research Center at Beit Hanoun City in northern Gaza, tells Daraj: “The university’s three branches were destroyed, including the Beit Hanoun branch in northern Gaza, which spanned 130 dunums and served as a station for agricultural experiments and research to train students of agriculture and veterinary medicine. It housed the best modern agricultural technologies, but unfortunately, it was leveled to the ground during this war.”

In another context, al-Sheikh Eid says he is unable to provide for his family’s needs after losing his job due to the war, exorbitant prices, and the absence of salaries. He adds: “To be frank, after eating the best foods, we now rely on canned goods. What can I tell you about canned goods? Morning and evening, we have become like beggars, waiting for aid to arrive, eating foods we never expected to eat, but praise be to God.”

al-Sheikh Eid hopes for an end to this war, as the university needs support to revive itself, with approximately 15,000 students and around 650 employees, not including contracted workers whose fate has become uncertain. He affirms that he will stay in his job unless circumstances prevent it, but he will seek any other work possible in Gaza. “However, if opportunities close here, I will look for work in another country.”

Hassan al-Dohhan, a media specialist with 30 years of experience in journalism and media, who worked on temporary contracts at Palestine University in  Gaza, tells Daraj: “I am not a regular employee at the university; I work on temporary contracts or occasionally on an hourly basis, within the context of benefiting from competencies,” even though he has been working in journalism and media for 30 years. 

He emphasizes that the situation in Gaza is “extremely complex, harder than one can imagine. We have all become prisoners of food parcels and coupons due to job losses and salary cuts, which has serious implications for mental health. Many holders of advanced degrees have turned into street vendors, while others have become drivers,” he concludes. “Everyone is thinking of leaving, but the main obstacle now is having the funds to coordinate, especially since faction leaders were the first to flee, despite their earlier boasting about resilience from hotels.”

Unemployment and Economic Decline

The cornerstone of any country’s economic engine relies on productivity and an effective workforce. However, the Palestinian economy is constrained on all fronts. With the ongoing war for the past 9 months, the economy has visibly deteriorated towards collapse and will require a long period to recover.

Mazen Marji, an economic analyst, discusses the current economic situation in Gaza with Daraj: “Currently, Gaza cannot utilize its available capacities due to the level of unemployment it has reached, which may increase further in the future. The economy has been under siege for many years, preventing the strip from exploiting its resources, and work has been limited to some light industries and simple professions.”

He continues: ‘We must look to the most important issue, which is reconstruction, in the event that fighting stops or a permanent or temporary ceasefire is agreed upon, allowing for the entry of aid and construction materials. This also comes with the full understanding that not everyone will return to work immediately, as it will take several years, no less than five, for the situation to return to what it was before October 7. There is no guarantee that once the war stops, people will return to their jobs, because the economy in the sector is quite simple.”

According to Marji, “The matter is not that easy, as there are those who have lost their homes, lives, and jobs. However, for the majority of the two million people who will serve as a workforce for what will be built, whether in the port project or in other economic sectors, Gaza is a primary source of daily labor, not only internally but also in the occupied West Bank, numbering in tens of thousands. A high percentage of them can return to work in various fields.'”

In a previous statement, Mohammad Qallawa, Director of Statistics at the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, stated: “Direct economic losses in Gaza amounted to about $700 million in just the first month of the war. Additionally, 147,000 workers stopped working in the private sector, and 56,000 establishments ceased operations.” He anticipated that “the poverty rate in the sector would rise to about 90 percent, with economic losses during the siege since 2007 totaling around $35 billion, not counting the effects of the current aggression.”

The latest report from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) concluded that “2022 was a difficult year for Palestinians due to escalating political tensions, increased reliance on the occupying authority, stalled peace efforts, and the Palestinian economy continued to operate below its potential in 2022 amidst ongoing challenges.”

These challenges include land and natural resource losses to Israeli settlements, entrenched poverty, financial contraction, reduced external aid, and accumulated public and private debts.

Esraa Al Araj
Published on 25.06.2024
Reading time: 7 minutes

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