Attention Gaza shoppers! Egypt's open

Palestinians from Gaza carry goods they bought in Rafah on the Egyptian side of the border after crossing from the Gaza Strip. Tens of thousands of Palestinians poured into Egypt today to stock up on goods because of an Israeli blockade, after militants blew up parts of the border with the Gaza Strip.

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

KAI RYSSDAL: Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip went on a buying spree today. Not in Gaza itself, where the economy's been at a standstill for months now. This morning masked gunmen blew more than a dozen holes in the wall separating Gaza from Egypt. The United Nations says as many as 350,000 Palestinians crossed the border to buy supplies. Wire reports had them bringing back everything from televisions to car tires. We've reached economist Youssef Dauod in the West Bank. He's been working with the Palestinian Monetary Authority. And Professor Daoud, what do Palestinians need the most?

YOUSSEF DAUOD: As a matter of fact some of them needed to get food. Some of them needed fuel. Others needed cigarettes. Others needed communication equipment, and I hear that a printer cartridge was selling for something like $75 in Gaza. So things were in dire short supply for this period. Some things went down in prices. The agricultural produce, which Gaza was famous for exporting, it's prices tumbled down greatly, making the problem even more severe because when food prices went down, the things that they export, they have less purchasing power, of course.

RYSSDAL: I'm a little curious though where residents of Gaza might be getting money to buy things. The economy there has been almost shut down for awhile.

DAUOD: Well, working at the Monetary Authority allowed me to get some information, which is, you know, there are still some government employees in Gaza who have been receiving salaries. So banks with some savings, some money still together for people who work for the government.

RYSSDAL: What about the price differentials between say a pack of cigarettes in Gaza and what it might go for over the border at the Rafah crossing today?

DAUOD: I think somewhere along the lines of 30 to 50 percent higher in Gaza, depending on the kind of good you're talking about.

RYSSDAL: Would you be worried at all about a black market in Gaza, and this situation making it worse? That is, you could go and buy a bag of cement over the border and bring it back in and sell it for two, three, four times what it might be worth?

DAUOD: That has happened. As a matter of fact, today one person went in three times to buy cigarettes and he said he made his month's salary today.

RYSSDAL: How much of a boost do you think this day's events will give to the Gazan economy? Might it make it more durable and able to last just a little bit longer?

DAUOD: Well, I still have hope in the international community, because this is a humanitarian situation. And even if it does sustain for a day or two, it doesn't get us very far. Israel still announces that it will keep its checkpoints closed to trade and labor movements, and therefore the situation is going to continue to be bad in Gaza.

RYSSDAL: What will happen if the border does stay open, as far as the Gazan economy goes?

DAUOD: It will make a severe problem less severe. At least in this cold weather people will not be . . . and the hospitals will need the energy for people not to die, because people in the dialysis units -- you know those people who go clean their blood. Others who need certain kinds for breathing or have asthma, this medicine was running out, so at least this will make a bad situation less bad, but I don't know for how long.

RYSSDAL: Youssef Dauod is a professor of economics at Birzeit University in the West Bank city of Ramallah. Professor, thank you.

DAUOD: Thank you very much.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, the most widely heard program on business and the economy in the country.

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