In stark contrast to the obvious direct economic impact of the closure of two Palestinian towns on the daily life of people, the longer term effects of the Israeli-imposed blockade are only now starting to emerge, according to the findings of a UN-commissioned survey released today.
"Increased occurrence of psychological problems both in children and adults as well as the possible early signs of malnutrition are but small indications that larger problems may await the Palestinian population if the crisis and closure continues," says a summary of the studies, which were conducted by the Norwegian research institute FAFO on behalf of the Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East.
According to the studies, the closures of Palestinian territories have not had the intended effect, while their collective impact on the population raises questions about the closures' validity as a security tool. "Moreover, closure has not stopped violent action against settlers or Israelis, whether inside Israel or inside the occupied territory," the summary says. "Rather, periods of severe closure have often shown more violence."
The report also warns that the reorganization of Palestinian society around political factions may increase the danger of violent conflict, "which could make closure, if defined as a security measure, less a factor in preventing violence than in exacerbating it."
The studies aimed to improve understanding of how the closure of Jericho and Gaza City, as well as the villages of Beit Furik and Rantis, impinges upon the economy and daily life of people, how they are affected by the closure and how they cope with the situation.
The studies found that the closures have had a "significant, negative effect" on the Palestinian economy and on the daily lives of average citizens. However, over the past year of the Intifada, the Palestinian economy has been able to sustain itself because while the closure has been strict, it is not complete, allowing workers to cross into Israel and find work.
Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority and other organizations, such as the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), have been providing basic social services, the studies say. Palestinians have also resorted to coping mechanisms such as decreasing food consumption, reliance on credit and some emergency assistance and selling of assets.
The studies show, however, that those coping mechanisms are not sustainable over the medium- to long-term and make it increasingly hard for Palestinians to make ends meet.