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Israeli siege turns Gaza into resort city

It is now more than eight consecutive years since the strict Israeli, Egyptian and internationally-backed siege was imposed on the Gaza Strip, which has affected all aspects of people’s lives and led to the collapse of many industrial and commercial sectors.

To some extent, certain aspects of the social lives of Gazans have also collapsed, for example, the divorce rate has sharply increased while beggars and child street urchins have become daily scenes across the whole Strip as a result of the increasing poverty rate.

However, businessman Ali Omar says that the siege has also pushed the Gazans to develop their life in different ways and across different sectors, some of which have even become prosperous, in this tiny coastal enclave.

“On top of these sectors, the tourism industry, which was almost dead in Gaza before the siege, [has also seen an uptake]” Omar tells MEMO from a luxurious resort on the shores of the Mediterranean. “I used to spend two holidays abroad every year, one in Egypt and one in Spain.”

“As a businessman, I had to pay over $5,000 for my holidays. There were no restrictions on the crossings, but today, there are restrictions and at the same time, due to the economic hardships in the Strip, I cannot afford the same amount of money for two holidays every year.”

As an alternative, he said: “I am now spending more than two holidays for the cost of only one. I pay $600 for this resort and spend five days with all my family members using all the facilities in this luxurious beachfront resort.”

Gaza now is an active tourism spot, but only for its residents. “Gaza has not really been a destination for tourists,” says economic analyst Nizar Sha’ban. “Most foreigners who visit the Strip and stay in its hotels are journalists, aid workers, UN and Red Cross staff,” he added.

Blue Beach Resort

Blue Beach Resort, where Omar has spent his latest holiday, is made up of 162 chalet-style rooms set among palm trees and overlooking the Mediterranean.

Shadi Al-Shorafa, who also spent the weekend in the Blue Beach Resort, says: “This is the most momentous tourist attraction I have ever seen. You find all entertainment facilities in one place. You can even find attractions for your little kids.”

Al-Shorafa, 31, has never spent holidays abroad, but says that he met people at the Blue Beach Resort who say that it is just like famous resorts in the most developed countries regarding quality, beauty and the variety of attractions.

The Blue Beach Resort is “the most significant tourist attraction and entertainment venue in Gaza,” proclaims its Facebook page; but there are in fact many other attractive resorts, chalets and parks across the Gaza Strip.

All of these resorts and attractions were built under the constraints of the strict Israeli siege. People cannot travel to spend their holidays abroad, so they are able to find places than they wouldn’t have dreamt to visit outside of Palestine.

Al-Rashid Street

Driving along the beachfront on the western side of central Gaza City, you will pass across dozens of new and modern resorts, chalets and coffee shops. With great difficulty you can get into one of them, especially in the evening.

“By sunset, all our 60 tables will be full,” Tawfiq Ridwan, a waiter at Qahwatna cafe, told MEMO. “We offer a kind of high quality service with cheap prices,” he added, citing this as the main reason for the success of this project due to the high poverty and unemployment rates in the enclave.

In a recent report, The World Bank said that “unemployment in Gaza is the highest in the world at 43 per cent.”

“Gaza’s unemployment and poverty figures are very troubling and the economic outlook is worrying,” World Bank Country Director for West Bank and Gaza Steen Lau Jorgensen said earlier this year. “The current market in Gaza is not able to offer jobs leaving a large population in despair particularly the youth.”

Jorgensen blames the nine-year blockade and successive Israeli wars as the main reasons for the ongoing distraught in Gaza City.

“The ongoing blockade and the 2014 war have taken a toll on Gaza’s economy and people’s livelihoods. Gaza’s exports virtually disappeared and the manufacturing sector has shrunk by as much as 60 per cent,” he said. “The economy cannot survive without being connected to the outside world.”

The Israeli offensive against the Strip in summer 2014, the third major Israeli offensive since December 2008, destroyed more than 12,000 homes and left tens of thousands of people homeless.

Nael Deema, owner of a small resort in the countryside surrounding Gaza City, has an extended family of 17 members. He lost his job under the Israeli siege and was left without an income.

“I have a small area of land in the countryside of the city and immediately thought of investing it to create an alternative source of income to feed my family,” Deema said. “After a one month feasibility study, I decided to build this resort.”

The area of Deema’s resort is about 1,000m2, including a swimming pool, two rooms, a handball pitch, chalet-style sitting and other facilities. It can be hired for $100 to $150 every day.

No Palestinian officials were able to comment on tourism or to give any indication of numbers as tourism has not been that much of a prosperous sector in the Strip as a result of repeated Israeli aggressions and the restrictions on movement.

Images from Our correspondent in Gaza, Motasem A Dalloul and also from Facebook.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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