Human losses aside, Gaza operation hits Israelis in pocket
By Turgut Alp Boyraz, Monday, August 11, 2014
JERUSALEM – Israel's devastating military operation against the Gaza Strip has also had an impact on the Israeli front – not only in terms of human losses, but also for local businesses.
"This operation totally affected our business; we saw a 90-percent drop in sales in the last two weeks," Edwardo Dwer, a 59-year-old shop owner in West Jerusalem, told Anadolu Agency.
The Israeli operation, which began on July 7, has left at least 1940 Palestinians dead and around 10,000 injured, not to mention the massive material destruction across the embattled Gaza Strip, several neighborhoods of which have been reduced to rubble.
Meanwhile, at least 64 Israeli soldiers have been killed in battles with Palestinian fighters in the coastal enclave – the highest death toll for Israeli troops since the 2006 war in Lebanon, in which 119 soldiers were killed.
Three Israelis have also been killed by rocket fire emanating from Gaza.
But although things are calmer now, Israeli business owners are still feeling the bite, with the tourism sector seemingly the biggest loser.
According to the Israel Hotel Association, 30 to 40 percent of tourists left Tel Aviv earlier than planned in the first days of the operation, while 30 percent cancelled their reservations.
Nearly 75 percent of Jerusalem hotel bookings were also canceled in July, according to Sami Abu-Dayyeh, president of the Holy Land Incoming Tour Operators Association.
"The hotels didn't lay off staff yet, but [they are] working at their lowest capacity as many reservations have been canceled," he told AA.
After a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip landed nearby in late July, several airlines – including some from the U.S., the E.U. and Turkey – temporarily cancelled flights to and from Israel's Ben-Gurion International Airport.
Israeli national carrier El Al last week asked the government for financial aid, citing losses from the tourism slump.
Israel's Finance Ministry has not given any figures for economic losses, but Israeli Tax Authority Director Moshe Asher said the Gaza operation was estimated to have cost about 4.5 billion Israeli shekels ($1.3 billion) in terms of lost GDP.
Ben Hur Fredi, a café owner on the main street of West Jerusalem, said his business' daily turnover had dropped more than 80 percent after the Gaza operation started.
"The number of tourists visiting Jerusalem is very low this year," he told AA. However, he said the economy would recover in weeks if everything returned to normal.
Fredi is not alone in seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.
Dwer, the West Jerusalem shop owner, said they had learned how to survive such tense times.
"I have had this shop for 25 years and I got used to this kind of situation," he told AA.
"All I have to do is go to the bank and ask for a new loan," he explained. "What is unlucky this time is that the Gaza operation took place in the tourism season."
The Knesset Finance Committee has approved a plan for compensating businesses in southern Israel for conflict-related damages, which includes aid to businesses within 40km of the Gaza Strip's border.
"The government should also assist local business in Jerusalem," said Uri Halfon, director-general of the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce.
"We wrote letters to the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Finance and the banks, asking to postpone income and VAT tax payments," he told AA.
Halfon expressed optimism, however, for a swift comeback for Israel's economy.
"Israel has a strong economy with a strong high-tech and agricultural industry," he boasted.
"The effect of the Gaza operation will only be temporary," said the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce chief. "I would say the economy will recover in months."
Yaacov Lifshitz, the former director-general of the Israeli Ministry of Finance and former chief economist for the Israeli Ministry of Defense, argues that the economic cost of the Gaza operation in terms of lost GDP could be very small.
"In the short run, the Israeli economy significantly depends on the world economy. Therefore, if there are positive trends in the U.S., Europe and other countries that trade with Israel, local economic conditions might be favorable," he added.
In addition, Lifshitz said that since the main problem would probably be "temporary cash flow deficits, I would suggest appropriate arrangements with the banking system backed by government guarantees."
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