How Israel tried to put Gaza out of business

Ola Mousa

The Electronic Intifada  /  June 17, 2021

A smashed sewing machine is one of the few things that Muhammad al-Madhoun has been able to retrieve from his workshop.

He and his staff used to design and make clothes in the Shorouq tower. The clothes were sold – along with fashion accessories and cosmetics – in a store within the same building.

Al-Madhoun had been hoping to do a brisk trade on 12 May.

Eid al-Fitr – a holiday when many people don new clothes and give each other gifts – would begin that evening. In his own words, Al-Madhoun wanted to “sell like crazy” as business had been badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“But on 12 May, we got a phone call that made us jump out of our skin,” he said. “We were told that a bunch of missiles would be fired at the building in 10 minutes.”

Israel bombed and destroyed the Shorouq Tower soon after that call.

The call had come from a security guard working in the tower, who had been warned by Israel that everyone must leave the building. Israel also fired a missile at the roof of the building – as a harbinger of how it intended to destroy the entire tower.

Al-Madhoun and his staff had to evacuate hurriedly; they did not have time to carry any equipment with them.

“We were seven workers,” Al-Madhoun said. “We were all working hard to support our families. Now we are left with nothing but sorrow.”

The Shorouq tower hosted media organizations, medical clinics and various firms. It was located in Al-Rimal, a neighborhood of Gaza City.

“Pile of rubble”

A commercial hub, Al-Rimal was targeted much more by Israel during its May 2021 attack than it had been during the three other major offensives against Gaza since December 2008. Al-Rimal was the scene of a particularly gruesome crime last month – the massacre on Al-Wahda street, in which at least 44 people were killed.

By bombing businesses in Al-Rimal and elsewhere, Israel was inflicting damage on Gaza’s economy that would be difficult to repair, the human rights group Al-Haq has suggested. Al-Haq noted that Gaza’s economy was already on the brink of collapse before the May offensive began.

Israel destroyed or damaged an estimated 525 businesses in Gaza last month.

“The greatest destruction was to shops,” said Ali al-Hayek from the Federation of Palestinian Industries. “The losses to goods prepared for Eid al-Fitr were very heavy, especially in the Al-Rimal neighborhood. This beautiful commercial neighborhood was turned into a pile of rubble.”

The official unemployment rate in Gaza stood at 48 percent ahead of last month’s attack. According to Al-Hayek, it would not be surprising if the actual unemployment rate climbs to 70 percent because of the damage caused by Israel in May.

“Everything was lost”

Aliaa Zimmo ran a boutique for women’s clothing in the Al-Walid building, also located in Al-Rimal.

She had started the business – named SHE fashion – with her husband and daughter two years ago. They had invested a great deal of time and energy toward making it successful.

Then Israel bombed the Al-Walid building on 13 May.

“In one moment, everything was lost,” said Zimmo. “The building had shops, a beauty salon, an education center and a press office. There was nothing there that threatened Israel. The shop had just been renovated for Ramadan. And we had got new stock for Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha [a holiday which falls in July this year].”

Zimmo had kept some of the new stock in her home. She is trying to keep her business going by selling the stock that remains, using Facebook as a promotional tool.

The losses she incurred because of Israel’s bombing are estimated to be more than $60,000. She is unsure if she will receive any international aid for her business.

The al-Susi brothers operated two restaurants in Al-Rimal. They specialized in falafel, hummus and ful, a dish made with fava beans.

The family had been hoping to expand their business. Israel has wrecked their plans.

The restaurants were situated next to the Shorouq Tower. The restaurants were badly damaged when the tower was bombed.

“We never expected all the bombing in Al-Rimal,” said Imad al-Susi, who ran the restaurants, along with four of his brothers. “I have worked here since 2007. We’ve witnessed many Israeli attacks and disasters before.”

“We’ve endured endless hardship,” he added. “Demand has been insanely low and, with Gaza under siege, the economy has long been fragile. But we haven’t seen anything like this before. No one thought the Israelis would bomb this neighborhood as heavily as they have now.”

Ola Mousa is an artist and writer from Gaza