I have been watching with disappointment the news coming from Gaza regarding the government's crackdown on popular attractions where many Gazans plan their staycations. According to a number of Gaza investors, making a large investment in Gaza requires you to be an affiliate of Hamas or partner with one who is. Otherwise, your investment is doomed. One technique used by the local government to discourage non-Hamas businesses is to impose outrageous tax rates (upward of 20%) on those places. If legal and municipal intimidation do not work, then there are always the masked gunmen. Founders of the Crazy Water Park in Gaza learned that the hard way when their new beach resort was set on fire during the night.
If you are stuck in besieged Gaza and looking to find a cozy place to visit, you might be out of luck. Using a number of justifications and excuses the Hamas controlled Gaza government has shut down a number of trendy restaurants. Over the past few months alone a number of Gaza attractions were forced to close their doors. These closures limited the choices of the few Gazans who could actually afford to provide themselves with a brief distraction from the stress of brutal reality.
As you read about popular Gaza places, keep on mind the word "resort" is loosely defined here. Some places labeled resort are nothing more than a couple of shacks and a kitchen. As seen in the to Palpress:
- September 2nd, 2010 Gaza Sama coffee shop was closed for three days because of gender mixing and women smoking hookah, an act Hamas banned earlier this past summer.
- September 5th, 2010 The Gaza government decided to close down the Crazy Water Resort (the first water park in Gaza) for 21 days. Their violation was having dug their own water well. The same resort was also ordered to close on August 20th of this year for three days because they had the audacity to organize a concert.
- September 5th, 2010 Gaza's only horse club was ordered to close for 21 days for failing to complete some paperwork.
- September 7th, 2010 Stopped cultural nights at Alsmak Restaurant (a popular seafood restaurant) the event was banned and the organizers were told to sign papers that they will not hold such events in the future. This was done despite the fact that the organizers have obtained all necessary permits from the Hamas offices.
- September 12th, 2010 Hamas security forces banned another cultural night organized by the alumni of a local community college.
- September 19th, 2010 Closed the Beach House Cafe and Restaurant for three days because of violation of parties and gender mixing gathering.
Now a few Fatah news outlets are circulating theories to explain Hamas' recent clamping down on Gaza's restaurants. One theory holds that the closings are aimed to boost sales and attendance of Hamas backed attractions. The news site reported three Gaza attractions that have visible Hamas links:
- Asda'a North. A tourist attraction North of Gaza the brain child of the Hamas minister of interior minister. This spot will feature a zoo, gardens and two Olympic size pools.
- The Gaza Mall. The new mall, rumored to be a three million dollar project, opened a few weeks ago with ribbon cutting ceremonies attended by a number of Hamas figures.
- Bisan Beach Resort. This resort is run by a front group of Hamas. With a restaurant, a cafe, and fish farms this resort is visited daily by 1,000 patrons. Bisan Beach Resort is rumored to have cost a million and a quarter dollars.
Hamas denies these reports and argues that these places are open for the amusement of all the people of Gaza. While most of these projects have a positive impact on the local economy where they create jobs and provide an outlet for the besieged people of Gaza, I am a bit uneasy about the secret connections and those profiting from deprived people who are caught between a rock and a hard place.
The majority of the people of Gaza know little about these places, as very few of them can afford to visit these types of restaurants. Regulars of these places pay as much as five dollars for a Mocha and four dollars for a cold drink. Real estate investors and NGO employees keep these posh places in business.
Last year, when I was stuck in Gaza, I took my old man to Almathaf a popular beachside Gaza resort. It is a fine place to take someone out on a date. My dad had just retired from his teaching position at the UNRWA. He protested to me that he finds it wasteful to go to those places and order a chicken sandwich and pay more for it than what residents of lower Manhattan pay for a similar sandwich. I kind of agree with my dad's attitude but, I also know that with very limited movement and increasingly urbanized Gaza, there are very few places people can escape to. The recent actions of government in Gaza are not helping.
Hani Almadhoun is originally from Beit Lahia in the Northern Gaza Strip, where he completed his secondary and part of his university studies. Hani moved to the United States in 2000 and continued his studies. Hani holds an MPA from Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Business and currently lives in Washington D.C. where he works for a non-profit that helps promote Palestinian culture and the development of even greater Human rights within Palestine. When Hani is not working nor worrying about his loved ones back in Gaza, he blogs and when given a free opportunity, does standup comedy in D.C. area clubs.