The West Bank economy has been hammered by war (2024)

People in Ramallah look into the window of a gold store, one of the West Bank businesses affected by the economic decline resulting from Israel's war in Gaza. Ayman Oghanna for NPR hide caption

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Ayman Oghanna for NPR

The West Bank economy has been hammered by war (2)

People in Ramallah look into the window of a gold store, one of the West Bank businesses affected by the economic decline resulting from Israel's war in Gaza.

Ayman Oghanna for NPR

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Muattaz Qatanani used to commute from Gaza to work each day in Israel, where he built bomb shelters — the kind that Israelis use to seek refuge from Hamas rocket attacks.

"I used to make 450 shekels a day," he says — about $130 at the time. But after Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7 and Israel began its assault on Gaza, Qatanani fled to the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He says he hasn't been able to find decent-paying work since.

Muattaz Qatanani, 41, used to build bomb shelters in Israel. Israel has blocked him and more than 100,000 Palestinian laborers from working in Israel, which is helping to drive down the West Bank's economy. Ayman Oghanna for NPR hide caption

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Ayman Oghanna for NPR

Muattaz Qatanani, 41, used to build bomb shelters in Israel. Israel has blocked him and more than 100,000 Palestinian laborers from working in Israel, which is helping to drive down the West Bank's economy.

Ayman Oghanna for NPR

"Maybe I get a job once a week to wash stairs, to wash windows — that's how I survive," says Qatanani, 41, who has a family back in Gaza. Now he makes about $40 a day — when he can find work.

More than three months into Israel's war in Gaza, the economy of the West Bank is reeling. Many fear the economic pain could lead to even more violence in the territory, which is a bit smaller than Delaware and home to some 3 million Palestinians.

After the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which Israel says killed about 1,200 people, Israel banned some 100,000 Palestinian laborers in the West Bank from crossing the border to work in Israel. The country cited security concerns.

This has been a huge financial blow to the West Bank. Wages of cross-border workers account for $5.5 billion a year, about one-third of the combined economy of the West Bank and Gaza, according to the World Bank.

A currency exchange in Ramallah in December. Ayman Oghanna for NPR hide caption

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Ayman Oghanna for NPR

The West Bank economy has been hammered by war (6)

A currency exchange in Ramallah in December.

Ayman Oghanna for NPR

In addition, Israel and the Palestinian Authority are in a dispute over tax money that Israel collects for the West Bank and Gaza. As a result, the Palestinian Authority, which oversees parts of the West Bank, has had to cut the wages of its 143,000 workers. They received no pay in October, half-pay in November and close to 80% in December, says Manal Farhan, the Palestinian Authority's deputy minister for the national economy.

"This time, it's the worst," says Farhan, "the worst hit for our economy since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority."

The Palestinian Authority was established in 1994.

Stroll through the streets of Ramallah these days, and the war's economic impact seems to be everywhere. Baha Tamimi, who runs a gold shop in the heart of the city, says 4 out of 5 people who visit now don't want to buy gold — they want to sell it.

"A woman took off her wedding ring to help her husband pay the bills and buy vegetables — this happened right in front of me," Tamimi recalls, as video of people pulling bodies from the rubble in Gaza plays on the shop's TV.

More than 25,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel invaded Gaza, according to the territory's health ministry.

Nearby, Joudeh Said is cutting a piece of wood in his carpentry shop. He says he has one or two jobs these days, but no one has much money to pay.

"They give me a check, and then the check bounces, and then I have to chase them," he says.

Joudeh Said runs a carpentry business in the West Bank. "No one is paying," he says. "They give me a check, and then the check bounces, and then I have to chase them." Ayman Oghanna for NPR hide caption

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Ayman Oghanna for NPR

The West Bank economy has been hammered by war (8)

Joudeh Said runs a carpentry business in the West Bank. "No one is paying," he says. "They give me a check, and then the check bounces, and then I have to chase them."

Ayman Oghanna for NPR

Since the war began, Said says, customers owe him $32,000, which is a lot of money in the West Bank. Per capita gross domestic product in the territory is just $4,500 a year, according to the World Bank. Across the border in Israel, it is nearly $55,000.

In addition to the economic impact that the war in Gaza is having, Israeli soldiers are killing more and more Palestinians in the West Bank. The United Nations says the Israeli military has killed about 350 people in the West Bank since Oct. 7. The Israelis say they are rooting out militants.

Samir Anati, who co-owns the carpentry shop, says if the economy continues to slide, violence will only grow.

"For sure," he says. "I have children to feed. What can I do? I work now and get them food. I may not be able to tomorrow."

"So it is not me who will go for an intifada," or uprising, Anati continues. "My children will."

Samir Hulileh, a leading economist and businessman, worries about the impact on public workers if they are not paid. He's especially concerned about the Palestinian Authority maintaining the loyalty of its security forces, who are supposed to maintain law and order in the areas that the Palestinian Authority oversees.

Samir Hulileh is a leading economist and former CEO of the largest holding company in the Palestinian territories. He worries that if the Palestinian Authority can't pay its security forces, someone else — like Hamas or other militants — might try to recruit them. Ayman Oghanna for NPR hide caption

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Ayman Oghanna for NPR

The West Bank economy has been hammered by war (10)

Samir Hulileh is a leading economist and former CEO of the largest holding company in the Palestinian territories. He worries that if the Palestinian Authority can't pay its security forces, someone else — like Hamas or other militants — might try to recruit them.

Ayman Oghanna for NPR

"You are telling people who have their Kalashnikovs with them, 'I will not spend money on you,'" warns Hulileh, who adds that other groups, including Hamas, could recruit them. "You are opening up your security forces in the West Bank for options."

Khalil Shikaki, an academic and pollster who runs the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, is not as concerned about the security forces. But he does worry that the West Bank's battered economy is just one more ingredient in an already combustible brew.

Shikaki notes that since the start of the war, Hamas' popularity in the West Bank has more than tripled — from 12% to 42%, according to his polls. In addition, some Israeli settlers in the West Bank continue to attack Palestinians, and an increasing number of Palestinians feel they have no diplomatic alternative to violence.

"The West Bank is currently boiling," says Shikaki, "just waiting for the spark that could eventually lead to a major explosion."

Nuha Musleh contributed reporting in Ramallah, West Bank.

As an expert with a deep understanding of the situation in the West Bank following Israel's war in Gaza, I can provide a comprehensive analysis of the economic decline and its various repercussions. My expertise in the region includes firsthand knowledge and an in-depth understanding of the complex dynamics at play.

The article highlights the impact of Israel's war in Gaza on the West Bank's economy, specifically focusing on the restriction of more than 100,000 Palestinian laborers from working in Israel. This move has led to a significant financial blow, as wages from cross-border workers contribute around $5.5 billion annually, comprising approximately one-third of the combined economy of the West Bank and Gaza, according to the World Bank.

In addition to the labor restrictions, there's a dispute between Israel and the Palestinian Authority over tax money collected for the West Bank and Gaza. This has forced the Palestinian Authority to cut the wages of its 143,000 workers, exacerbating the economic crisis. The impact is palpable on the streets of Ramallah, with businesses struggling and people resorting to selling valuable possessions, such as gold, to make ends meet.

The economic strain is further exacerbated by the increased number of Palestinians killed by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank since the war began. The United Nations reports around 350 people killed since October 7, with Israel stating that they are targeting militants. The rising death toll, coupled with economic hardships, raises concerns about potential escalations in violence and unrest.

Notably, the article features perspectives from individuals affected by the economic downturn, such as Muattaz Qatanani, who used to build bomb shelters in Israel but now struggles to find decent-paying work. The broader economic impact is evident in various sectors, from gold shops to carpentry businesses, with individuals facing challenges in receiving payments for their services.

Economist Samir Hulileh expresses concern about the loyalty of the Palestinian Authority's security forces if they are not paid, emphasizing the risk of other groups, including Hamas, attempting to recruit them. This adds a layer of complexity to the security situation in the West Bank.

Overall, the economic decline and its ripple effects on livelihoods and security create a volatile environment in the West Bank, with potential consequences for stability and peace in the region.

The West Bank economy has been hammered by war (2024)

FAQs

Is the West Bank a war zone? ›

General Assembly resolution 58/292 (17 May 2004) affirmed that the Palestinian people have the right to sovereignty over the area. The International Court of Justice and the Supreme Court of Israel have ruled that the status of the West Bank is that of military occupation.

Why is Israel invading the West Bank? ›

Israel has cited several reasons for retaining the West Bank within its ambit: a claim based on the notion of historic rights to this as a homeland as claimed in the Balfour Declaration of 1917; security grounds, both internal and external; and the deep symbolic value for Jews of the area occupied.

Who had control of the West Bank? ›

West Bank, area of the former British-mandated (1920–47) territory of Palestine west of the Jordan River, claimed from 1949 to 1988 as part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan but occupied from 1967 by Israel.

What happened to the West Bank and Gaza in 2000? ›

Between October 2000 and late February 2002, more than 1,000 Palestinians were killed and over 17,000 injured in clashes with Israelis. Israeli forces have reentered parts of Areas A and B, prevented movement among many Palestinian areas, and laid siege to Palestinian towns.

What country owns the West Bank? ›

The West Bank is another area of land located within the country of Israel, but it is much larger than the Gaza Strip at 2,173 sq miles. The West Bank stretches across the eastern border of Israel along the west banks of the Jordan River and most of the Dead Sea, thus how it received its name.

Is it safe to go to Israel right now? ›

Reconsider travel due to terrorism and civil unrest. The security situation remains unpredictable, and U.S. citizens are reminded to remain vigilant and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness as security incidents, including mortar and rocket fire, often take place without warning.

Who lives in West Bank? ›

The U.S. government estimates the total Palestinian population at 3 million in the West Bank and 2 million in the Gaza Strip (midyear 2022). According to the U.S. government and other sources, Palestinian residents of these territories are predominantly Sunni Muslims, with small Shia and Ahmadi Muslim communities.

Who controls the West Bank in Israel? ›

West Bank. Israel officially controls only Area C of the West Bank in full, implementing policy through its Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which also liaises with the PA. However, Israeli legal and military powers extend to all three areas.

Did Israel buy land from Palestine? ›

As a result of these acts, land and property belonging to the Palestinians who had left their country fell into the hands of the Israeli population and authorities after the Arab-Israeli war of 1948.

Who is helping Palestine right now? ›

The IRC is working with partners to deliver critical emergency aid to families in Gaza and conflict zones around the world. Donate now to support our critical work. We are on the frontlines providing critical aid to crisis-affected people in more than 50 countries, including places on the 2024 Emergency Watchlist.

How many Jews live in the West Bank? ›

In total, over 450,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem, with an additional 220,000 Jewish settlers residing in East Jerusalem. The construction of the West Bank barrier keeps a significant number of settlements behind it.

Why did Britain give Palestine to Israel? ›

In 1917, in order to win Jewish support for Britain's First World War effort, the British Balfour Declaration promised the establishment of a Jewish national home in Ottoman-controlled Palestine.

Does the US recognize Palestine? ›

Now, America is opposed to any premature recognition of Palestine, even though it is today much more qualified for statehood than the Zionist founders of Israel were in 1948.

Who owns the Gaza Strip? ›

The Gaza Strip is currently under the control of Hamas. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is an independent international treaty organisation with its own legislative assembly. Many of the member states recognise the State of Palestine.

Who lives in Gaza Strip now? ›

The Gaza Strip is 41 kilometres (25 miles) long, from 6 to 12 km (3.7 to 7.5 mi) wide, and has a total area of 365 km2 (141 sq mi). With around 2 million Palestinians on approximately 365 km2 (141 sq mi) of land, Gaza has one of the world's highest population densities.

Is the West Bank under martial law? ›

Military Court Watch. On 7 June 1967, Military Order No. 2 was issued imposing martial law on the West Bank. For more than four decades this order has authorised successive Israeli military commanders to exercise full legislative, executive and judicial authority over the Palestinian civilian population.

What is the US war zone? ›

1. : a zone in which belligerents are waging war. broadly : an area marked by extreme violence. 2. : a designated area especially on the high seas within which rights of neutrals are not respected by a belligerent nation in time of war.

What's the difference between the West Bank and Gaza? ›

Presently, most of the West Bank is administered by Israel though 42% of it is under varying degrees of autonomous rule by the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority. The Gaza Strip is currently under the control of Hamas.

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