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Alam-HamadaAlam Hamada

Age 31, from Gaza, Married and Father of Four,

Food Product Manufacturer and Distributor

‘Alam Hamada is a member of a Gaza family in the food manufacturing, import, and export business. The family owns the al-Bader factory, which used to produce up to 50 tons of canned foods per day, 30 tons of which were distributed to the West Bank daily; al-Bader supplied 40% of the canned food market in the West Bank. In July 2006 al-Bader was denied the opportunity to sell his goods to the West Bank due to the closure of Gaza; Israel simultaneously banned the import of raw materials to the Strip, including empty cans and preservative agents essential for ongoing production at the al-Bader factory. Production at the factory gradually decreased, until it ceased altogether at the start of 2008. West Bank consumers who used to enjoy al-Bader canned goods have started to buy other brands, produced primarily in Israel, China, and Jordan.

‘Alam was forced to lay off most of his workers – more than 40 people. ‘Alam and his relatives, who had close business ties with distributors in the West Bank and traveled there on an almost daily basis, are no longer allowed to travel to the West Bank. In order to keep the idle factory in existence, ‘Alam must pay NIS 40,000 per month in taxes, vehicle costs, electricity and phone bills, salaries to the few remaining workers, and maintenance of the factory’s machinery. In 2007–08, ‘Alam bought 4,000 tons of tomatoes and 50 tons of chickpeas in the hope that he would be able to import empty cans from Israel, can the food, and sell it the West Bank or Gaza. His hopes were dashed when Israel continued to restrict the import of goods to Gaza to the “humanitarian minimum,” which does not include empty cans. ‘Alam is still keeping that food in cold storage, at a cost of over NIS 20,000 per month.

“If we don’t find a solution for the tomatoes within four months, I’ll have to destroy them. I can’t sell the chickpeas on the local market, because that will certainly mean a loss. These goods are frozen assets that I’m paying for. It’s a big disaster. […] The situation at the al-Bader factory is tragic. The life that this factory supported has stopped: there are no workers, no production, and no buyers. […] The factory is now losing money. This is a bitter reality: instead of earning from it, I’m paying for it.

“When the closure was imposed, we started to limit the number of workers. […] That hurt us. A worker has been with you from the start, and suddenly you fire him for reasons beyond your control. […] This means that I cut off the livelihood of 40–45 households who were dependent on their work in the factory to live. […] All of the contacts that we had with distributors in the West Bank are completely gone. We can’t rely on the Gaza market because we don’t have the raw materials for production. […] The ban on travel to the West Bank stops us from having a connection with the other half of the homeland, which was the source of half our work.”

Maamoun-al-TamimiMaamoun al-Tamimi

Age 50, from Gaza, Married, Father

of Eight, Stone Trader

Hebron-born Maamoun has worked in the stone trade in the Gaza Strip since 1993. Maamoun moved to Gaza in 1995 and continued to work in his field and traveled to the West Bank everyday for business. He also worked as a construction contractor, employing more than 20 people and participating in tenders for stonework in Gaza. In 2006, when Israel imposed a ban on the import of stone and building materials into the Gaza Strip, Maamoun’s livelihood was abruptly snatched away:

“I left Hebron and came to Gaza because work here was better than excellent. Hardly a day went by without me winning a tender. There was economic activity and widespread construction activity. But the situation changed drastically in the blink of an eye. Today I have nothing. The last time I could bring stone and marble into Gaza was in 2006, before the soldier Shalit was taken hostage. From that day on I have not brought a single stone into Gaza. […] Stones that I imported in 2006 I’m storing in a rented lot. It is impossible to build anything with them because the other materials needed are banned due to the closure. Until this day, I have a delivery of marble and stone waiting with one of the drivers from Tarkumia.

“I pay 1,000 dinars [$1,400 US] a year for the stone storage lot, and 1,200 dinars [$1,700 US] for the rented apartment where I live, but I have no income to pay these sums. I’m totally dependent on my brothers in Hebron who are sending me money. The laborers I used to employ, at least half of whom have families, have no livelihood now. […] Out of boredom I leave my house every morning and come to this place and sit in the hut, and then I go home. I swear that if I begin to hate this hut, the world could not contain me, and I will explode from torment. […] How did all this happen in the blink of an eye, and there is nothing left? I swear to you, my heart is broken. I’m going to get sick just from having nothing to do.”

Mohammed-al-TilbaniMohammed al-Tilbani

Age 50, from Deir al-Balah, Married, father

of 10, Ice Cream and Cookie Manufacturer

Mohammed al-Tilbani has worked for the past 32 years as a manufacturer and distributor of ice cream and cookies. The al-Tilbani factory has six production lines, of which only one is currently operational. In 2004 Mohammed marketed 60% of the factory’s production output – some 30 tons a day – to the West Bank; at that time al-Tilbani ice creams constituted about a quarter of all ice creams sold in the West Bank. In the years that followed, restrictions on exports gradually intensified until they were halted altogether in 2007. Since then, production for the West Bank market has shut down, 250 out of the factory’s 400 employees have had their hours cut back, and the business’s profits have fallen 70%. Distributors in the West Bank who preferred to buy ice cream and cookies from the al-Tilbani factory have started to buy these products primarily from Israel.

Mohammed used to buy paper goods for packaging the cookies and ice cream, cocoa for producing ice creams, and flavorings for his products from the West Bank. The import into the Gaza Strip of all these items has been banned since June 2007. The substitutes which Mohammed has tried to obtain via the tunnels have been inadequate, since most of the time they arrive damaged, are of unknown origin, are not in the sizes that Mohammed ordered, are overpriced, and are of inferior quality compared to the goods that used to come from the West Bank. Until September 2007 Mohammed used to travel to the West Bank on business on a daily basis, using the permanent permit that Israel issued for leading business people (“the BMC card”). Since then, Israel has refused to honor those permits and Mohammed has had a very hard time leaving Gaza for business, even though Israel has not raised security concerns about him.

“I can compare export from Gaza to the West Bank to the collapse of a sand castle: In 2005 and 2006 they allowed us to export weekly the about same amount that we used to export daily, and a big part of the castle came crashing down. I began to sense that we had a tough period ahead of us. There were dark clouds on the horizon. At the end of 2006 and the start of 2007, the volume of exports decreased; weeks would pass by without us being able to export, until the whole thing collapsed and the closure came: The last time we exported was on May 30, 2007. Since then there have been no exports and no trade with the West Bank. I am working just to keep the al-Tilbani factory in existence, without profit.

[...] I have agents in the West Bank who I worked with for 18 years, distributors who I have to settle accounts with, debts owed to distributors and some that I need to collect, and two distribution vehicles. In the West Bank they hold conferences and workshops on the trade industry. We cannot participate in any of these today. I am cut off from the outside world, and especially from the West Bank. I call this death sentence that Israel imposes and also carries out on trade and manufacturing in the Gaza Strip.”

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