Middle East

Gaza voices: Business under the eased blockade

Three months ago, Israel began easing the blockade of the Gaza Strip, allowing a greater range of goods into the territory. The BBC's Jon Donnison asks some business owners in Gaza City what changes they have seen for them and for the people of Gaza.

Marwan Kishawi, owner of Mercedes dealership, Gaza City

Image caption Kishawi says he has has not sold a new car since 2006

"There is no real change yet," says Marwan Kishawi. "But they say that this week the Israelis will allow the first new cars into Gaza in over three years."

Until now the only way to get a new car was to order one to be smuggled in the tunnels from Egypt. But this week, Mr Kishawi says two trucks of spare parts were allowed into Gaza for the first time in years.

But he has not seen the parts yet. He says there is a lot of bureaucracy and paperwork to get the parts into Gaza.

Mr Kishawi says he has not sold a new car since 2006.

"It will be exciting if it happens," he says, his smile suggesting he'll believe it when he sees it.

He says that for now, the blockade is still in place, but he hopes in six months time things will be better.

Mr Kishawi says his business has lost hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past three years.

Hani Asri, owner of the Metro supermarket, Gaza City

Image caption Asri says better quality goods are coming from Israel but few can afford them

"We have many new products now," says Mr Asri. "Nearly all the food here comes from Israel now. Three months ago everything came from Egypt."

He says the Israeli food gives more choice and is better quality.

But he says although things are better than three months ago, there is still one big problem.

"Nobody has any money. The economy is a disaster. We need jobs."

Mr Asri has just had what should have been one of the busiest times of the year, the Eid al-Fitr festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Traditionally, people eat and shop over the holiday.

"This year people don't feel like celebrating as much. They don't buy as much food. They can't afford it like they could maybe five years ago.

"It was a festival without any festivities."

Rafik Hassouna, construction company owner

Image caption Hassouna blames high unemployment on the depressed construction sector

"There is no change for my business," says Rafik Hassouna. "I need cement, steel and concrete, but after three months I still can't get it."

Israel is allowing some building materials in but only for use by organisations such as the United Nations.

Mr Hassouna is involved with some of those projects but he says it's not enough.

"These projects will only ever make up about 10% of the business I used to have."

He says he and other builders need building materials for private housing, and that construction should be one of the biggest sectors in Gaza's economy.

He argues that the lack of building work is one of the reasons unemployment is so high, above 40%.

Israel says its worried building materials could be used for military purposes by Hamas.

Mr Hassouna rejects this. "Hamas have all the cement they need. They get everything they need through the tunnels from Egypt."

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