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Will There Be Christmas In The Holy Land?

Will There Be Christmas In The Holy Land?

Christmas is a time for food and lots of it. However one food line that that won’t be available this Christmas is couscous from the Gaza Strip in Palestine. Through no fault of the wheat growers or the women’s cooperatives that process it, the 200 families associated with its production are now out of work and out of luck. This at a time of year when New Zealanders will be laying their tables with a variety of food imported from around the world.

Half a ton of couscous from Gaza has been purchased by New Zealanders since the first shipment arrived at the 31 Trade Aid shops around the country 6 months ago. Trade Aid’s Communications Manager, Michelia Ward, has just this week returned from a visit to partners in Palestine where an Israeli embargo on products from Gaza has caused an abrupt halt to exports. “The shut down of the Palestinian Occupied Territories to the outside world and to their own lands is a situation that we as free New Zealanders could never fully comprehend”, says Michelia “especially at a time like this when Christmas plans and celebrations are foremost in our minds”.

The inability of Trade Aid to import the couscous in 2008 lies in Israel’s decision that the Gaza Strip is a ‘hostile enemy’, closing all crossings and borders to an area that has become the most densely populated on the planet. Residents of the Gaza Strip have relied primarily on agricultural production to provide food for families and as an essential income stream from exports. The direct economic loss has been estimated at US$48 million on a monthly basis; US$12 million of which is the loss of the agricultural sector alone.

“Spending time with the Palestinians can’t help but change your perspective on life here in New Zealand” says Michelia. “One man I spent the day with in the West Bank town of Jenin was happier than he had been for weeks because he had just received a permission certificate to visit his 6 year old boy who has cancer and is in a hospital outside of his hometown, behind ‘the wall’. Unfortunately the situation for the Palestinians of Gaza is even worse than this.”

The closure of Gaza in accessing outside markets has exasperated an already severe situation. It has reduced food production through lack of imports and the reduction of markets causing a leap in prices and a direct threat to the food security level. This coupled with estimates of 80% unemployment rates and 60% of the population below the poverty line, means that as we celebrate on December 25, most of the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza will be struggling to put food on the table. The only silver lining to the situation is that the remaining couscous, unable to be exported, has been distributed across Gaza as food aid to the starving and to the refugees.

In addition to the product that reaches New Zealand markets, PARC, Trade Aid’s partner who established the Gaza cooperatives, had been exporting hundreds of tons of couscous to fair trade organisations throughout Europe. This production in 2008 will now come from newly established women’s cooperatives in the West Bank who although appreciative of the extra orders, are fully aware of the desperate situation of their not so fortunate sisters.


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