The media last week heralded the opening of the first shopping mall in Gaza and immediately the blogosphere was atwitter. Some saw it as proof of the easing of the closure, which Israel had promised, and others saw it as a sign that there is no crisis in Gaza. Indeed, a two-story building converted into an air-conditioned shopping mall (restrictions on the transfer of construction materials into Gaza for the private sector are still in effect and would preclude the building of such a structure) does not correspond with the usual images of the Strip, nor with concerned reports about hunger arising from the closure, still in effect despite the easing of some restrictions. But Gaza is not and was never a place with a quantitative food shortage; rather it is a place where many people lack the means to buy food and other goods because of a closure policy whose tenets are “no development, no prosperity, and no humanitarian crisis”.
Prices at the new shopping mall are particularly low, clients say, and considering the limited buying power of Gaza residents, there seems to be no other choice. Sixty-one percent of households in the Gaza Strip suffer from food insecurity, where the UN defines food security as “a situation in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food which meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life”. Unemployment is at 34%, a figure that should come as no surprise due to the sweeping ban on exports from Gaza enforced since the beginning of the closure of Gaza in June 2007. Israel has emphasized that the recent cabinet decision announcing an easing of the closure does not apply to export (nor to the movement of people). Even the recent lifting of the ban on the transfer of raw materials and the slow trickle of spare parts into Gaza have not yet made their mark on economic activity, especially considering the crossings’ capacity limitations.
According to the mall’s directors, the vast majority of brands sold at the mall – 90% – are Israeli-made, in addition to a small percentage of items originating in the West Bank. This is another indication of the dearth of goods manufactured in Gaza itself. Indeed, how can you manufacture clothing, shoes, carpets and food products (items that have been manufactured in Gaza in the past), when, even after the cabinet decision to “lift the closure”, the amount of goods transferred into Gaza last week (979 trucks compared to 2,350 trucks a week in 2005) meets only 40% of needs?
The price is of the products at the mall may be low, but apparently not low enough for most of the residents of Gaza.