Twenty-four-year-old Majd Al Mashharawi is a young entrepreneur from the Gaza Strip. She is the founder of Sun Box, a company that manufactures small-scale solar power devices for home use. Al Mashharawi and the Sun Box team developed the devices themselves, following thorough research; they checked the average power consumption in Gaza, studied existing solar panel manufacturers, and Majd even traveled all the way to Japan to select the rechargeable batteries to operate the devices. The company priced the devices at about 400 USD, the lowest possible price, so as to help as many Gaza residents as possible gain access to solar power for domestic use.
Gaza’s power grid currently provides only four consecutive hours of electricity, followed by between 16 and 18 hours without power. Any alternative source of power, especially the small-scale solar solution created by Sun Box, could be life-changing for residents of the Strip.
In early July, Majd and her colleagues finalized arrangements for a shipment of equipment to enter Gaza, so that they could assemble their first 185 units and install them in homes in Gaza. The Sun Box units could be helping to cool down homes and power refrigerators and other essential home appliances and electronic devices.
But ever since July 10, when Israel closed the Kerem Shalom Crossing to all but food and fuel, a shipment of solar panels (costing 30,000 ILS, more than 8,000 USD), as well as rechargeable batteries that arrived especially from Japan, has been stuck at the Port of Ashdod in Israel. The money Al Mashharawi and her partners invested in their project has fast turned to debt, and, to add insult to injury, the team is paying for storage each day the items are stuck in Ashdod (about 600 ILS, or 160 USD, per day).
Last week, with Gisha’s help, Al Mashharawi was able to exit Gaza and travel to the United States to attend a conference for alumni of a leadership program for young entrepreneurs, held at Brandeis University in Boston. As is the norm under Israel’s restrictive permit regime, her simple request to exit Gaza wasn’t granted without difficulties: On her way to Erez Crossing, Al Mashharawi discovered that although she had received an exit permit from Israel several days earlier, she had since been placed under a sudden “security block.” Gisha prepared to take legal action on her behalf, at which point the Civil Liaison Administration notified us that it had decided to allow Majd to exit the Strip after all.
The solar devices aren’t the first major invention for engineering savant Al Mashharawi. After completing her degree at the Islamic University of Gaza, she famously developed Green Cake, an environmentally-friendly brick made of ash, and an alternative to cement, which Israel limits the entry of into the Strip and sometimes forbids altogether; since July 10, Israel has reintroduced a sweeping ban on the entry of cement and other construction materials into Gaza.
In Gaza, women like Majd Al Mashharawi, who break through the glass ceilings of their society and hold immense potential for ground-breaking innovation, are blocked by the closure, whose very intention is to deter and suppress. Faced with the reality of life under closure, and despite the additional obstacles that Israel’s new sanctions at Kerem Shalom have created for them, Majd and the Sun Box team refuse to give up.