“This year, we skipped importing specialty chocolates, so as to avoid losses”

Images: Markets in Gaza. Photos by Gisha

Images: Markets in Gaza. Photos by Gisha

The days leading up to Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, used to be the busiest time of year for A., a Gaza chocolate distributor. He and his staff would start planning four months before the holiday. They would select chocolates to purchase from various manufacturers and coordinate the arrival of merchandise from Europe and the West Bank and its entry via Kerem Shalom Crossing.

Because of the dire economic situation in Gaza, further exacerbated over the past year by Israel’s tightening of the closure and the Palestinian Authority delaying salary payments to its employees in Gaza, A. says no one is buying chocolate. Gaza’s shrinking purchasing power has had an acute impact on demand for luxury items like chocolate. “The future is uncertain,” he tells Gisha’s field coordinator in Gaza. “Those who have money today are afraid to spend it because they don’t know what will happen tomorrow.”

A. says the difficult situation results in the chocolate market being flooded with merchandise no one wants. “This year, we skipped importing specialty chocolates, so as to avoid losses. What doesn’t sell over the holiday doesn’t have a long shelf life.”

A. is better off than some of his counterparts. The business he works for is still running at least. A. says 30 percent of the stores in the sector have had to shut down because they could not pay commitments or debts to suppliers. A.’s company has managed to retain its entire staff, but workers have had to take on other tasks in addition to selling chocolate, such as collecting on debts from customers and business partners.

The workers themselves are grateful for the very chance to make a living and know full well that the job market waiting for them outside has a 49.1% unemployment rate. People’s financial woes are exacerbated by other hardships, including the electricity crisis. Chocolate of course has to be refrigerated. In a reality where power is available only for four hours at a time followed by 16 hours of blackouts, businesses that require non-stop refrigeration rely on generator power.  At A.’s company, a generator runs at least 12 hours per day, costing the business 15,000 ILS per month (more than 4,000 USD).

The restrictions Israel imposes on travel via Erez Crossing, including on businesspeople, also hurts the business. A. says the owner of his company has not had a permit from Israel to travel out of Gaza for the past three years. He’s unable to visit another branch of the company that he owns in the West Bank and travel abroad, with both Erez closed to him and Rafah closed most of the time, is nearly impossible. The company relies on his son, who lives in Europe, to represent it and close deals there.

This has been the hardest time in the last fifty years in A.’s estimation. “Even charities that used to buy sweets to give to poor families did not contact us this year.” Meanwhile the chocolates wait on the shelves for those who can afford to make the holiday sweeter, while others wait for better times.

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