[war & blockade] Business in Gaza still devastated one year after attack

A recording studio and other equipment belonging to the firm Mashareq were destroyed when Israel attacked the Al-Awqaf building in Gaza City last year (Naaman Omar - APA Images)

Ghada al-Haddad

The Electronic Intifada  /  June 15, 2022

The Magic Pizza has a very short history – compared to most restaurants.

Opened in July 2020, it was destroyed during Israel’s May 2021 attack on Gaza.

Muhammad Jarour, who ran the Magic Pizza, described the destruction as “traumatic.”

“Everything that I invested in the restaurant has gone,” he said.

The Magic Pizza was located in Gaza City’s Al-Jawhara Tower. That high-rise residential and commercial building was partly owned by Jarour’s father.

Al-Jawhara Tower was subjected to a series of missile bombardments in May last year.

It was among many high-rise buildings destroyed or badly damaged in the neighborhood of Al-Rimal. As Al-Rimal is the business hub of Gaza City, Israel’s repeated bombardment there was widely perceived as a move to inflict immense harm on the local economy.

Muhammad Jarour, a 29-year-old graduate in business administration, believes that Israel deliberately blocks Palestinians from realizing their ambitions.

The argument is supported by data from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics. According to its latest figures, 75 percent of young people with a post-high school diploma or degree in Gaza are now unemployed.

“Part of Israel’s plans is to make young people lose hope,” Jarour said.

‘Gone with the wind’

His restaurant, he added, has “gone with the wind” and “I need to start again from zero.”

More than 2,000 businesses in Gaza were destroyed or damaged during the May 2021 offensive. Of them, approximately 450 were totally destroyed.

An estimated 7,500 workers lost their jobs because of the offensive.

Hazem Abu Humaid is a marketing manager with Mashareq. That firm was best known for running a studio where Mohammad Assaf, winner of the TV show Arab Idol, made his first recordings.

The company also worked in film production, advertising and photography.

In May last year, Israel “destroyed 20 years of work and memories,” Abu Humaid said when it targeted the Al-Awqaf building, where Mashareq was based.

According to Abu Humaid, the firm incurred losses worth $1.5 million due to the attack.

The year since then has been “the most difficult one” since Mashareq was established in the late 1990s, Abu Humaid added. “We have not recovered yet.”

Despite the devastation which Gaza has faced in the recent past, Abu Humaid insisted that “we don’t want to cry over the ruins.”

The firm has reopened at a new location in Al-Rimal.

While some of its staff have left and sought new jobs, others have opted to stay with Mashareq.

One major problem is that the company does not have enough money to pay its staff their previous salaries. Some employees agreed to work without being paid during the initial stages of the reopening.

Mashareq also does not have enough equipment to do work it previously did – such as large printing jobs.

‘Abnormal’

Like his father before him, Ayman Musa is a carpenter.

During Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, Musa’s workshop was targeted and all of its equipment ruined.

To rebuild the business, “I sold everything – my house, my car, my wife’s jewelry,” Musa said. “And I borrowed a lot of money, too.”

Eventually, he succeeded in reopening the workshop.

Then came the May 2021 attack, when the carpentry was once again bombarded.

Musa, a father of six, estimates that he lost $250,000 as a result. He employed around 40 staff.

“I had to lay off all my staff, without giving them any redundancy payments or other benefits,” he said. “I had no choice. It was an abnormal situation.”

Musa has long held the view that businesspeople are responsible for Palestine’s development.

As part of that ethos, he thinks that when the economy is going through a rough patch, businesspeople have a responsibility to turn things around.

A series of major Israeli attacks and the lengthy blockade imposed on Gaza mean that he no longer clings so firmly to that ethos. He is one of many businesspeople in Gaza who have seen their investments smashed to smithereens as a result of Israeli state violence.

The result of such violence, according to Musa, is that “we feel imprisoned and depressed.”

Ghada al-Haddad is a journalist based in Gaza