Gaza: untapped

As the West Bank economy improves, Gaza remains in steep decline, with the private sector decimated and income sources largely down to donor money and smuggling revenue. A blockade has been imposed on the strip ever since Hamas seized power in 2007 and Israel’s assault on the territory in 2008/9, in response to continued rocket fire, further damaged infrastructure.

Restrictions on imports and exports have been eased since last summer’s debacle over a Turkish aid flotilla intercepted by Israeli forces in which nine activists were killed, but Gaza remains a closed market – or, as Palestinian business leaders prefer to pitch it, an untapped economic resource.

“When I talk to investors I say, look at Gaza, it’s a positive thing, we have room to grow if things change,” says Ammar Aker, CEO of Paltel, noting that while the West Bank has nearly 80 per cent mobile phone penetration, Gaza stands at 53 per cent.

And then there’s the famed Gazan ingenuity. “They are the most resilient, flexible and innovative people imaginable,” says Hashim Shawa, himself from a long-established Gaza family and chairman of the Bank of Palestine, the fast-growing and largest bank in the territories.

The closure has quite literally led to a thriving underground economy. Some 1,500 tunnels dug under the border from Egypt bring in everything from dismantled cars to weapons. With nowhere to go – and not much to do – Gaza has become an untapped reserve of avid recyclers and rebuilders, as well as self-taught IT enthusiasts and systems hackers.

Tourism potential for Gaza – with miles and miles of golden beaches and a perfect winter sun climate – could be huge. “The tourism there could be second to none,” says Shawa wistfully. But that’s far off in the future, if peace ever delivers its dividends.

Hebron: rebranded

The first challenge faced by Israeli design students Ziv Schneider and Eido Gat, tasked with rebranding the Palestinian city of Hebron, was getting there.

Hebron is home to some 165,000 Palestinians, 500 hardcore Jewish settlers, and often a flashpoint for violence. Schneider and Gat could only visit for half a day and had to have a police escort.

Schneider and Gat took on the project for an end-of-year show at Israel’s Shenkar College of Engineering and Design. “We needed to present a positive image of the city, so we dug into its history as a trade centre and came up with the idea of creating a convention to show what the city could be,” says Schneider.

They adopted the city’s Palestinian name, with a logo branding it the “The New Al-Khaleil” and forming the graphic basis for the city’s businesses, both real and imaginary. The pair also created items from espresso cups to T-shirts that firms would give away at the theoretical conference.

Their design was not without controversy. “We got a lot of criticism – people thought it was a fantasy and could never happen.” For now, their project remains theoretical. Schneider says they would both love to gift it to the city, but “the political situation makes it so difficult”.

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