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Israel policies pushing Palestinians deeper into poverty: U.N.

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The United Nations UNCTAD agency issued a gloomy outlook for the Palestinian economy recently, arguing that tougher Israeli policies were pushing the Palestinian Territories and Gaza deeper into poverty.

The report from the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) said the economy has lost access to 40 per cent of West Bank land, 82 percent of its ground water, and more than two thirds of its grazing land.

Shepherds in the West Bank have lost a large portion of lands where their animals used to graze, because of the Israeli barrier.

“This barrier affected our grazing lands as we used to go behind -- in those mountains (hills) where there are good places for grazing. We used to have double and treble the number of sheep but now we can’t graze behind these mountains (hills), so we buy more food (for sheep) and it is hard to buy food because the barley is expensive,” said Abu Mohammed, a shepherd living near Bethlehem.

Towns like Bethlehem and surrounding villages in the West Bank are heavily reliant on farmland.

A study by the U.N. Office for the Co-ordination of Human Affairs (OCHA) states that 50-75 percent of agricultural land traditionally used by people of the Bethlehem municipality has been confiscated through the construction of Israel’s barrier and its settlement building.

Israel credits the barrier -- a network of fences interspersed with concrete walls, projected to be 720 km (450 miles) long when complete -- with stemming Palestinian attacks that peaked in 2002 and 2003.

The situation had been aggravated in 2011 by a sharp drop in foreign aid, which for years provided a vital support, dimming any hope for an upswing even in the longer term, UNCTAD said.

The report, for an UNCTAD meeting starting in Geneva on September 17, said the impact of the Israeli occupation since 1968 on the productive base of the Palestinian economy, and especially its once-flourishing agriculture, has been ‘devastating.’

The Palestinian agriculture minister said many sectors were badly hurting.

“All of the main agricultural sectors that were elements in the success of the Palestinian economic are targeted today by the Israelis -- such as the poultry sector and the palm sector,” said Waleed Asaf, Palestinian Minister of Agriculture.

Palestinians have recently stepped up street protests across the West Bank against the high cost of living in the aid-dependent Palestinian Authority.

“The unemployment is high now, we are talking about 25% of unemployment -- it is one of the highest in the world. The increase in the prices will reduce the benefit of the producers. Therefore, it will reduce the job opportunities,” said Basam Makhul, a Palestinian economist.