Is there anything we don’t know yet about Gaza?
Gaza is occupied by Israel. Wrong! There is not a single Israeli in Gaza.
Gaza is the largest open-air jail in the world. Wrong! The Erez border crossing is open daily, around the clock.
Israel prevents entry from Gaza to Israel. Wrong! The terrorist organization of Hamas prevents Gazans from leaving Gaza even in humanitarian or medically necessary cases.
Israel blocks any influx of goods to Gaza. Wrong! Israel supplies dozens of tons of building materials, food, gas for cooking and heating, medical supplies and other goods every day through the [Kerem] Shalom crossing to Gaza.
In Gaza, life is without any question much more difficult than the life we are accustomed to. After all, nearly 1.9 million inhabitants live on 360 km2. That is an average population density of 5,300 persons per km2. That is a lot.
The total population figures also include 1.3 million refugees from the years 1948/49, who are under the care of UNWRA. They live in eight refugee camps, of which the „Beach Camp“ (aka: Al-Shati Camp) is the most densely populated one with nearly 82,000 inhabitants on 1 km2 (!).
In Gaza City, more than 550,000 people live on 45 km2, which corresponds to a population density of over 12,000 [per km2]. Modern Gaza is certainly one of the most densely populated cities in the world and is hardly different from any other modern metropolis. But during the IDF operations against Hamas terror, no damage was caused to the buildings or the infrastructure. That is amazing!
The majority of the population of the entire Gaza Strip is divided into Gaza City, Kfar Yunis and Rafah. Yet, this must not be seen as an absolute fact. Between the densely populated areas there are regions that are almost deserted. But no one wants to settle there, either because they could lose their inheritable refugee status, or because the country is not yet developed there and does not meet the demands of their living standards.
For comparison: in Bnei Brak, a predominantly orthodox city next to Tel Aviv, 22,400 people live on one square kilometer, in Monaco 18,000, in Hong Kong nearly 6,500, in Munich 4,600, in London 5,400, in Zurich some 4,000 and in Berlin some 3,900 .
So where is the problem? Too many people or too little space?
Gaza is simply different. There seem to be two parallel societies.The gap between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, seems to widen more and more.
Anyone who can, migrates, or at least has a second residence abroad. Qatar is the favorite country. From there money flows to Hamas, there the terrorist leaders can live a luxurious life.
Hamas apologists receive the financial means to buy building materials for reconstruction. These are delivered to the Gaza Strip by Israel free of charge and seized by Hamas. Whereupon they are resold by Hamas not according to urgency, but as Hamas deems suitable. A ton of cement costs US$ 15. A lot of money for those who have nothing.
Those who are not at the top of the hierarchy have at least bought an ultramodern apartment in Gaza City. The money for this comes mainly from selling goods imported from Egypt via the smuggling tunnels. These, too, were sold at a profit with 20% tax. It took a long time before Egypt started systematically destroying the tunnels. But the deliveries could not be stopped completely.
The real estate business in Gaza is booming. Here, too, Hamas loyalists share the businesses among themselves. The Hamas leaders take best of the offers. Hamas leader Ismael Haniyeh has bought a plot of 2,500 m2 in prospering Rimal on the coast, at the price of US$ 4 and had it registered immediately in his son’s name. Other properties are registered in the names of relatives.
Only his three sisters and their children are excluded from his generosity. They are Israeli nationals and live in the Bedouin city of Tel-as-Sabi. Some of their children have completed their military service in the IDF.
If you are a member of the upper middle class in Gaza, or if you can afford it, you would also like to enjoy an appropriate infrastructure. Therefore, hotels of up to 5* are available.
The Al Mashtal Hotel, which opened in 2011 with much mumbo-jumbo, is plodding along. All the same, there is an entry concerning the hotel in the Tripadvisor of May 16, 2016. There is no information on whether it is still open or already closed.
The Grand Palace Hotel promises a lot, some pages are still being built, although it started operating in 2004. The last Tripadvisor entry was in July 13, 2011.
The Blue Beach Resort still seems to be operating – the last Tripadvisor entry was in October 2016.
However, Al Deira enjoys much popularity. Because of its proximity to the beach and the good price/performance ratio, the hotel was and is very popular with foreign journalists. As to whether it is a myth or the truth that the hotel and its surroundings during the last Gaza operation was a no-go area for the IAF, I have no proof.
Now we come to the woman whom I want to describe. Mona Adnan Ghalayini was born in the Beach Camp, where the worst living conditions prevail, see
Apparently there is a two-class society there, as well: On the one hand there are those who have nothing, really nothing at all, and also have no prospects for the future. On the other hand there are those who not only have a substantial regular income, but also a liberal worldview. There are parents whose daughters are free to choose a career and even complete their education abroad. The professions that are accepted in Muslim families, such as teachers, nurses, or administrators, are not what Mona considers a dream job. Particularly important and helpful for this young woman, who chose an unusual path for a Muslima, is the support by her family, experienced by both her and her sister, which continued even after her father’s death.
Mona does not reveal her age in an interview with Palestine Pulse. The fact that she received her accounting diploma in Jordan in 1992 may serve as an indication. Today she could be in her mid-40s.
Why Jordan? The Al-Azhar University, founded by Arafat, offers study courses as well as postgraduate studies in all disciplines. However, due to the special situation in Gaza, students have only very limited access to other scientific think tanks.
Mona made good use of her unique opportunity. Today she is the most prominent businesswoman in Gaza and the only one who is CEO of a group that operates hotels, restaurants and hypermarkets.
Her hotel career was almost classic: in 1992, she started as a receptionist in a small hotel on the beach. Small hotels are good for a quick career. After six months, she was promoted to the position of manager’s assistant which, as I can say from my own experience, is nothing but a title without power. One is responsible for everything but not allowed to decide anything.
Mona stayed there for five years, then the hotel closed down. However, during those years she had been able to make contacts that helped her take the next step.
Together with a partner, she opened the Sae Breeze Hotel in 2000, see: The mini-hotel with only eight rooms is said to have a very pleasant restaurant. In 2011, the author of the article hoped that the house would develop into a gastronomic highlight immediately after the opening of the Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, his hope has not yet been fulfilled, and probably will not come true as long as Hamas holds its firm grip on the Gaza Strip.
In 2003, a second project came to life, the Big Bite Restaurant in the immediate vicinity of Al-Azhar University, a strategically excellent location for a well-maintained and high-quality self-service restaurant.
Other businesses opened and closed. Today, five businesses belong to the empire. This requires long working days. To always know what is going on, what is going well and where there are problems, she has to be on each spot at least once a day. Time for family and friends is hardly there. As in any other industry, it is important to be able to react quickly to problems. As a woman in Gaza, she feels this pressure all the more strongly. Everything is considered suspicious. Every mistake is a reason for malice.
She can relax on her travels abroad. Her permanent visa as a businesswoman allows her unimpeded entry into and exit out of the Gaza Strip and Judea and Samaria. However, she can not fly from the Israeli Ben Gurion airport, but has to travel to Amman. A flight from Egypt would also be possible at any time. But this variant is too uncertain: Egypt holds the border with Rafah mostly closed. In contrast, the Israeli border crossing Erez is active and open year-round.
On her travels, which have taken her to numerous countries worldwide, she mostly books 5* hotels. Knowing that it is difficult to be innovative and to offer constant quality in Gaza, she tries to meet colleagues on her travels and find new things she can use in her work back home.
Salah Abu Hasira, Chairman of the Palestinian Committee for Restaurants, Hotels and Touristic Services, regrets that there are currently only ten female employees in the hotel/gastronomy sector in Gaza. One of these young ladies can be seen in this video receiving her training certificate.
For Mona it is not clear why this number is so low. Before Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the Gaza Strip was occupied, it was normal for women to work in the tourism branch. She is unable to explain when and especially why men started to claim this domain for themselves almost 100%. Above all, this change took place several years before the fundamentalist Hamas took over the government de facto and imposed Sharia legislation. Then, too, women did not have equal rights, but it was still far from the dramatic restrictions they are facing now. If at the time it was not policy that strongly restricted women in their choice of occupation, it can only be explained by reasons of tradition.
It could be a prohibition from the world of Fatwas: „A woman’s work area may only be for women, such as teaching girls, whether it is administrative or technical work, or work as a seamstress at home making clothes for women, etc. As regards working in areas where men are, that is not allowed, because it requires them to mix with men, which is a great fitna (temptation) and should be avoided.“
This seems to be the answer to the question of women’s low employment rate. And unfortunately, this will probably not change in the foreseeable future.
Many women in Gaza have given up. Although they had worked successfully in the social sector and were even employed as principals, they prefer to stay at home. They are too strongly influenced by the social conditions imposed on them.
Mona herself believes that her professional skills and successes have helped her to gain some recognition and respect, the respect she also shows her colleagues and partners.
On the other hand, during her visits to her companies she often meets young women, especially in the Big Bite, who ask her how she succeeded in building a successful career as a businesswoman. „Once you have set yourself a goal, you have to pursue it with all your might.“
At present, her team of employees consists of 150 people who work in her five projects. These projects are the Roots 1 Hotel with its well-known Club in Rimal, the flagship resort at the beach front site, the Roots 2 Hotel and Restaurant on the beach of Gaza City, the Al-Deira Hotel, which I have already described above, the Big Bite SB restaurant and the Care 4 hypermarket, also in Rimal.
It is clear that Mona cannot be the owner of this business package. In an article by Khaled-Abu-Toameh, I found evidence that the financial group Al-Hayat Tureed Company in Bahrain acts at least as the owner of the hypermarket, and if Khaled writes this, I assume that it is so.
It is not my intention to elaborate on this point and look for and find further information. In writing this blog I am not interested in revealing political connections. Instead, I wanted to show the fact that a woman in Gaza has succeeded in building something of her own, something completely independent. Something that can also be achieved by other young women, who still consider her an alien, if they have the required courage and perseverance.
When the borders open, at some point, Gaza can once again become what it used to be. A beautiful strip of land with undisturbed nature and dream beaches! Gaza deserves it.
© estherscheiner, israel
Translated by: Translations international, Herzliya