The only long-term way to stem the flow of Gazans taking deadly risks to try to leave the Strip (such as digging cross-border tunnels or migrating illegally across the Mediterranean), and to attract home the former residents with the specialized skills the economy needs to thrive, is to end the Israeli/Egyptian blockade. This would once again allow exports and the free flow of human traffic needed to support healthy trade and professional development. By contrast, if people continue to have no way to support themselves and their families through gainful, dignified employment, the flow of attempted emigration will continue.
However, securing a free and independent state of Palestine which includes the Gaza Strip will require a degree of international political will that does not currently exist, as well as the commitment of significant international funds. Outlined below are some discrete intermediate steps that could make a meaningful difference in the meantime:
Create an internationally protected Gaza seaport
The most effective specific step toward a long-term solution would be to reopen Gaza’s seaport in order to create a connection to the outside world. This would provide Palestinians in Gaza with a secure and dignified passageway in and out of the territory, freeing them from dependence on the mercurial goodwill of Israel and Egypt.
In contrast to landlocked states, in which participation in international markets is hindered by the absence of sea access, Gaza’s poor access is due to the absence of a seaport. However, this issue could be remedied through international support. In fact, a detailed plan already exists.
Following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1994, the French and Dutch governments committed to supporting the construction of a seaport in Gaza, as well as to training the necessary personnel. A contract for the project was finalized with the Palestinian Authority and the European Gaza Development Group, a consortium composed of a Dutch company, Ballast Nedam, and a French firm, Spie Batignolled. France pledged to invest $20 million in the project. The World Bank also offered support for the seaport project, suggesting it be implemented in a modular fashion. In its review of the concept, the Bank proposed that implementation begin with a simple roll-on, roll-off (RoRo) pier, thus accelerating the facility’s opening (which it believes could be possible within two years of the project’s beginning) and avoiding the creation of excess capacity before actual demand can be ascertained. (World Bank 2016)
Although the Israeli government was allowed to halt the proposed port’s construction, the EU could partner with the Dutch and French governments to restart the project. Currently, Gaza has only a fishery harbor that suffers from a lack of infrastructure and superstructure. Until construction of the commercial seaport starts, the current fishery harbor could be supplemented with around 50,000 square miles of fill to accommodate cargo activities. In addition, the existing breakwater and quay would have to be reconstructed, and the basin area would require dredging. Passenger and cargo terminals, along with an administrative building, would also have to be constructed.
The Israeli and Egyptian governments have expressed concerns regarding who would inspect the cargo and passengers coming into and out of Gaza. However, these tasks could be handled by international monitors deployed at the port. The European Union could reactivate the mandate of the EU Border Assistance Mission (EU-BAM) and give it a maritime dimension, while additionally deploying an international naval force to monitor the Gaza seashore. Ships could be allowed to travel between Gaza and Cyprus and/or Turkey, which recently reestablished formal relations with Israel.
One final requirement would be the establishment of a Palestinian Seaport Authority with a unified command, regardless of the status of efforts to end the internal division between Hamas and Fatah. European governments and other entities should encourage and support this exception without favoring one party or leader over another.
Create opportunities for youth
About 64 percent of the Gaza population is under the age of 24, and the majority of those of working age are currently unable to find employment sufficient to support themselves and contribute to the upkeep of their families.
To stem their attempts to flee, and to stop the “brain drain” of the best and brightest from the Palestinian labor market (an essential task if a functional economy is to be rebuilt, even if a seaport is created), opportunities must be created that enable young people to receive advanced-level educations, obtain employment and interact with their international peers. A number of the few full-scholarship programs available to Gazans encourage graduates to return to their homeland without making efforts to ensure they can actually find a professional job when they do so, or that they will be able to participate in later continuing-education opportunities. In addition, the limited quantity of scholarships available are generally accessible only to an elite few due to the relatively high cost of high-quality English classes.
Thus, a broad range of youth-support services are needed at the EU level. This would include:
- The facilitation of regular travel to Gaza for students studying in European countries, thus allowing them to stay attached to their homeland and social life.
- Efforts to make Gaza a livable place by providing support to municipalities to enhance water quality and expand green spaces and parks. Moreover, service centers could be created where residents could work and enjoy free services including internet access and electricity.
- The provision of advanced English-language classes for high-school students and university undergraduates throughout the Gaza Strip. These could be provided on a sliding-fee scale depending on family income.
- The creation of full scholarships, both at the undergraduate and master’s level, reserved for Palestinians from the occupied territories.
- The creation of a job-creation and job-placement program for scholarship graduates in Gaza and the West Bank, developed in partnership with European and local businesses. This should be paired with EU intervention assuring these graduates’ ability to enter and exit the region both for family visits and periodic professional-networking opportunities, as long as they continue to live in the occupied Palestinian territories.
- The facilitation of travel abroad for local journalists, athletes, teachers and other professionals in order to participate in conferences, competitions and research collaborations.
Provide support for local trades and nonprofits
In addition to support for the “best and the brightest” through study and job guarantees, support should be provided for local trades, arts and other indigenous initiatives instead of relying on international services. This could be effected through measures such as:
- Paying a stipend to local artists, craftsmen, photographers and filmmakers to teach children and young adults. In addition, their work could be showcased in international galleries, and arrangements could be made for works to be shown elsewhere in the world, accompanied by the artists.
- Training Palestinian NGO staff to satisfy international grant requirements, enabling them to compete more effectively with their international counterparts.
- Working to remove anti-terrorism barriers to the provision of funds directly to indigenous Gaza initiatives.
- Supporting a “buy local” subsidy campaign that makes it more economically feasible for residents to buy indigenously produced goods rather than inexpensive imports.
- Encouraging and supporting international visitors. Travel into Gaza by foreign citizens who could support the local economy or fill local training and education gaps is extremely difficult due to baseless restrictions imposed by both Israel and Egypt. The EU should intervene with both governments with the aim of lowering these barriers and enabling the healthy influx of diverse opinions and talents enjoyed by other countries. Regular passenger ships also could be arranged from Cyprus or Turkish ports once the creation of a seaport is allowed.
To stop the flow of migrants and refugees out of Gaza, and out of the occupied Palestinian territories as a whole, the answer is not to lock the door even tighter, but to open Gaza to the world.