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Unemployment, poverty at the root of Israeli-Palestinian conflict [Letter]

IsraelU.S. Department of AgricultureBenjamin NetanyahuPalestine

Letter writer Eric Rozenman concludes that the Palestinian "celebration" of the killing of three Israeli teenagers last month is noteworthy because Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly announced his regrets and said the perpetrators would be brought to justice ("Sun offers false equivalence between Israelis and Palestinians," July 11).

Further, Mr. Rozenman concludes that the Arab rejection of a "two-state solution" over the last several years is evidence that the Palestinians would rather engage in conflict than have peace.

I have read many versions of this same story over the last 30 years. Kill or be killed is often the theme in American newspapers. The real reasons for the conflict are not addressed.

How many commentators and analysts have been "on the ground" to evaluate the basis for this long-standing conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians? How many have witnessed the humiliation, not just of Palestinians, but Israeli Arabs? There are many reasons for conflict, but unemployment in Palestine and the struggling economy there are major factors.

In the early 1990s, as a research scientist working at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, I was asked to join a project designed to provide new employment opportunities for the Palestinians in Gaza. Governance of Gaza had just been turned over to the Palestinians. In cooperation with Israeli scientists, the Foreign Agricultural Service of the USDA, the Department of State, an Israeli ornamental plant grower and the assistance of the American Embassy in Tel Aviv, I went to Gaza and identified growers who would participate in the project.

At the expense of the Palestinians, a new greenhouse was constructed in Gaza, where a new and improved flower bulb crop was introduced. In the second year of production several thousand cut flowers were sent to the international flower auction in the Netherlands where they brought the highest price ever received for this crop at the Dutch auction. Although there were plans to introduce additional flower and other horticultural crops for production in Gaza, the program was canceled at the beginning of the Second Intifada.

An improved economy based on agriculture will improve the lives of Palestinians. There are more than 1.5 million residents of Gaza where there is 40 percent unemployment and the majority of the population is under sixteen years of age.

Unemployed people see no future and thrive on conflict. At one time, many Palestinians were employed in Israel. But as the conflict recurred, those employment opportunities were closed. Gaza produces not only flowers, but fruits and vegetables. Delays in shipment through Israel at the border have often resulted in ruined crops that are unsuitable for export.

There are many reasons for the current outbreak of violence, but if there is ever to be peace there must be a recognition that Palestinians have a right to develop an agricultural economy without the current restrictions. Border inspections of Gaza produce or allowing third-party inspection of products at the point of production are feasible solutions. Under the current state of affairs everyone loses.

I have been to Gaza three times and have had cooperative research projects with Israeli scientists on a range of subjects over the years. Headlines of blame stoked by "experts" who have never been on the ground there will continue to exacerbate the conflict. If that continues there will never be peace.

Roger Lawson, Columbia

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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