This week we will try again to understand what the possibilities are for industry in Gaza when the import of consumer goods, such as furniture, is permitted, when raw materials for industry have been cleared for entrance after many months, and while the ban on export remains firmly in place. This time we spoke with Tahseen al-Isi, director of the al-Isi furniture company in Gaza City, whose family has manufactured furniture for the Gaza market since the company was founded in 2000.
As opposed to the textile factory we wrote about last week, al-Isi’s factory did not export to the West Bank before 2007, instead focusing on the local market. But since the sweeping ban on export was imposed in June 2007, al-Isi has found himself competing for the small local market in Gaza with all of the vendors who cannot export to the West Bank. The market is flooded with local merchandise, in addition to Israeli merchandise that is allowed in, and as a result, prices have dropped to the point where merchants hardly make any profit.
But that’s not the only problem. Al-Isi explains that when Israel banned the import of wooden boards, he bought expensive boards smuggled through the tunnels. When the ban was lifted, al-Isi discovered that the price of the boards he was buying was three times higher than the price of those recently brought into the Gaza Strip through the crossings from Israel. And so al-Isi found himself having to compete with other furniture-makers who had paid less for their materials, which in turn forced him to reduce production by 50%. If he had continued producing at the normal volume, says al-Isi, his losses would have reached $50,000.
The ban on export not only floods the market with cheap products but also causes a steep rise in unemployment. Whereas in the past al-Isi had 18 carpenters working in the factory’s workshops, today he has only five workers. Al-Isi says that the workers suffer from the situation the most. So much so that most of them now rely on the aid of local and international organizations: “Most are frustrated and desperate about the economic situation”, al-Isi says sadly, “and we merchants do not have a magic wand to change the situation in Gaza”.
Therefore, the ban on export, which is one of the most important aspects of the closure on Gaza, affects directly the citizens’ right to live with dignity.