The workshop opened the speech of Dr. Samia Hilala, Vice President for Community Outreach, as she shed light on the importance of the workshops which aim at opening serious discussions on strategic issues in Palestine, so as to enhance the structure of the state through its institutions. In addition to promoting communication and coordination between civil society institutes, governmental institutions and decision makers; which fall under the priority of Birzeit University and promotes its societal, and developmental role, in addition to providing research and recommendations with a scientific and strategic orientation. She also indicated that in light of the current economic crisis, this workshop suggests a crucial topic in the Palestinian arena; because the tunnel economy is considered one of the most distorted and deformed economies in the region, due to the imposed Israeli blockade on Gaza.
In his speech, Dr. Abdel Karim Al-Barghouti, director of IALIIS, mentioned that the series of workshops IALIIS organizes aims at shedding light on the mutual affect between policies and options, or the economic detestation in the Palestinian society. Because there are a number of policies which the Palestinian Authority should adopt, regardless of the upcoming scenario, and whether a state was established or not. He also emphasized that this workshop -is the fifth and the last-and will address a highly sensitive issue, which is called Gaza’s tunnel economy. He affirmed that the geo-political division between Gaza and the West Bank, and in light of the continuing occupation of Palestine and its ability to divide, fragment and control both parts of the country; makes searching for methods to resist more crucial than ever. This has established a deformed tunnel economy, which either reinforces the plan of dividing or “Israeli containment” considering it an act of resisting the occupation and blockade. He referred to the main question here which is: “Is there still a united national project? Where’s the contribution with or against this project? He added that it is also important to discuss the status quo of the West Bank which is the premise of the upcoming conference which will address the forms of dependency and independence within the Palestinian condition. This conference will be based on the proceedings of all other workshops IALIIS held, with particular attention to the youth-Arab mobility.
Before the speakers presented their papers, a documentary was viewed, which epitomizes the tunnels in Gaza and the employments of children and adolescents in this dangerous job which became known as “Graveyard of the Living".
The first session was headed by Mr. Alaa Tartir, PhD Candidate and Researcher in International Development Studies, London School of Economics, and the title of which was “The Intertwined Relation between Gaza’s Tunnels and the Israeli Siege”. During this session, Mr. Nicholas Pelham, Correspondent for The Economist, a writer on Arab affairs, who has also worked as a consultant for the UN on Gaza’s political economy. He spoke about the changes the siege Israel, regional powers and the international community imposed on Gaza has made to the enclave’s trade and commerce in Gaza, which led Gazans to search for alternative sources, notably the tunnels. The tunnels became the main supply of resources which provides the needs of Gazanas. He also mentioned the regional and international reactions toward expanding the tunnels and its impact on the social and economic balance of Gaza. After that Mr. Fahd Abu Saymeh, Financial and administrative Director of Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ) commented on Mr. Pehlam’s paper and opened the floor for discussion.
The second session was entitled “Gaza’s Tunnels Economy: Economic Growth or Crisis?” and was chaired by Ahmad Azem, Professor of International Relations at IALIIS. Throughout this session Mr. Samir Abu Midalala, Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences at Al-Azhar University Gaza, presented his paper via Skype, as he wasn’t able to enter the West Bank and participate in person in this workshop. He discussed the reasons of constructing these tunnels, its pros and cons which are reflected in how the tunnels are considered a means to break the blockade and compensate for the missing resources on the one hand; and forms a block in front of establishing a productive economy on the other hand. Mr. Riyad Mousa, Chairman of the department of Economics at Birzet University commented on this session.
In the last session, which was entitled “Privatization of Tunnel Economy” was headed by Ms. Linda Tabar, Researcher in the Development Studies Center, Birzeit University. The speaker of this session was Mr. Samir Abdullah, Director General of The Palestine Economic Policy Research Institute (MAS). He mentioned that it would be difficult to establish a solid private sector with the lack of a competitive economy and with the continuation of the status quo, which the Israeli blockade has imposed on Gaza. Before opening discussion with the audience, Mohsen Abu Ramadan, Chairman of The Palestinian Non-Governmental Organization Network (PNGO) in Gaza, commented on this session. The workshop was concluded with the recommendations of Mehrene Larudee, Associate Professor and Chair, Economics & Finance; Division Head, Social Science.