AVPE is incorporated in Illinois, with board members and staff located in Chicago, Detroit, Ames (Iowa) Madison (Wisconsin), Houston, and Boston. It has supported businesses in Chicago, New York City and Austin (Texas), and has a network of contacts all over the United States. At the same time, it has board members and staff in the West Bank town of Ramallah and several agreements with business-oriented organizations that span Palestine.

The Palestinian town of Ramallah sits less than 30 miles from the coast and Tel Aviv. But the barrier that Israel started to build in 2002—a series of high cement walls, guard towers, monitored fences, gates and checkpoints—blocks access to ports and Israeli markets. A permit system requires Palestinians who seek to travel—sometimes only within the West Bank—to obtain permission from Israel’s military government. The Gaza Strip has been under blockade since 2006, with Israel’s military heavily restricting goods and people that enter and leave the small, fenced territory. A crossing to Egypt is only accessible sometimes and to some people.

The West Bank is home to 2.8 million Palestinians. Some 600,000 Jewish Israelis live there in settlements that are illegal under international law. Gaza’s 1.9 million Palestinians have seen three military aggressions by Israel in the past decade.

There are approximately 240,000 Palestinian small businesses among five million Palestinians, employing more than 85% of private sector workers and contributing more than 55% of the Palestinian GDP. Women run one-fourth of small and medium enterprises, although their participation in the overall labor force is lower than nearly every other country. A large proportion of these businesses are family-owned and operated.

Industrial and agricultural sectors have shrunken in recent years, and sectors producing non-tradable goods expanded in turn. Unemployment has been chronically high, up to 26.9% in 2016 (18.2% in the West Bank and 41.7% in Gaza). Many enterprises are begun out of necessity, which lends itself to a comparatively high failure rate. In 2012, 42% of Palestinian entrepreneurs (and two-thirds of female and youth entrepreneurs) were driven by need rather than by opportunity, according to Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) data. Overall, entrepreneurial activities in Palestine are in a nascent stage, and facing numerous obstacles—not least the ubiquitous occupation.

Source: “The Occupied Palestinian Territory: An Employment Diagnostic Study,” Regional Office for Arab States, 2018.