Western media has often been criticized by Israel for only on rare occasions presenting Gaza as anything other than an open-air prison suffering from Israeli blockades, but an unusual glimpse into the glamorous life of Gaza’s middle class made its way to light on Sunday.
Articles such as an Economist expose in 2012 detailing golden Porsches and Hummer’s cruising the streets of Gaza under corrupt Hamas rule were joined by a Washington Post report, revealing on Sunday how the “other half lives” in the terrorist enclave.
The article begins by noting how under-reported the middle class aspect of Gazan life is in Western media, commenting, “this is the Gaza outside the war photographer’s frame.”
“There is a parallel reality where the wafer-thin Palestinian middle class here is wooed by massage therapists, spin classes and private beach resorts,” continues the expose, listing “a handful of new ­luxury-car dealerships, boutiques selling designer jeans and, coming soon to a hip downtown restaurant, ‘Sushi Nights.'”
In interviewing some of Gaza’s middle class that enjoys “personal trainers, medium-rare steaks, law school degrees and decent salaries,” the paper spoke with Samia Hillis, a 33-year-old counselor for children with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the fighting in Hamas’s recurring terror wars against Israel.
“I like to get out a night or two a month. You have to, if you can afford it. You have to live life, just a little bit, even in Gaza,” said Hillis, who spoke with the paper while sitting with her niece at a new open-air rooftop restaurant named Level Up, nestled on the high-rise Zafer Tower.
Level Up’s general manager Basil Eleiwa spoke about his exclusive clientele, revealing that at least 100,000 residents of Gaza lived in the lap of luxury as members of the middle class when Hamas took control in 2007. That number has since dwindled, but recently has been resurgent.
Another new hot item in Gaza is Grand Motors, a luxury car dealership that like Level Up has managed to make a go of it despite the media preoccupation with Gaza’s “blockade.” The dealership, which opened two months ago, features new models of Mercedes-Benz sedans.
Moemen Abu Ras, a partner in the dealership, said business is slow and the market is small, but nevertheless there is a niche of wealthy Gazans wanting to ride in style – and who have enough disposable income to do so.
One car in the lot is a black 2014 Mercedes E-class sedan that has logged 20,000 kilometers, and is on sale for $80,000. Abu Ras buys the luxury automobiles in Germany, and then ships them through Israel’s port of Ashdod from where they are let into Gaza.
He notes that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas charge him import taxes aside from the Israeli car taxes that are applied to dealerships in Israel as well.
Living “a dream” in Gaza
Nearby another new posh site has opened in the form of Techno Gym. There for $100 a month Gaza’s upper crust can enjoy the air-conditioned sports club’s amenities, including cardio workouts, hydrotherapy, spin classes, swimming lessons, and expensive weight machines imported from China.
“This isn”t a business, this is a dream,” co-owner Ammar Abu Karsh told the Washington Post. He teaches the cardio class at the gym, which has over 500 members despite its steep entry fee.
Gaza even features a five-star hotel named Mashtal, which has been around since 2011. Despite being temporarily closed it is open again and catering to Gaza’s elite.
Just across the street from the Mashtal is a new attraction, the Blue Beach Resort, which is replete with “an Olympic-size swimming pool, cabana boys and a private beach.”
The paper noted that after an Israeli TV report on the resort the management “decided to lower its profile,” with a hotel employee being quoted saying “Hamas security complained that journalists were giving the world the wrong impression about Gaza.” Apparently Hamas was upset with images other than war-bombed buildings getting out.
“I’d run out of Gaza if I could”
But Gaza’s middle class do not seem opposed to leaving the Hamas-run region according to the report.
Heba Ammar, 24, was quoted saying “if I could leave Gaza I would run!,” while taking part in a pool party at a beach villa last week with her family, which rented the villa for 20 hours at $140.
Her sentiment is in fact quite common according to a poll in June, which found a full half of all Gazans want to leave Gaza, marking the highest such margin in the history of the Palestinian Arab institute that managed the polls.
Not everyone enjoys the luxury of the middle class in Gaza, however. The World Bank reports that due to “blockades, war and poor governance,” unemployment in Gaza is at 43%, the highest in the world. Likewise almost 80% of Gaza’s 1.8 million residents receive social assistance.
Gaza has in fact been suffering under an Egypt blockade recently expanded in a buffer zone inside Gaza, that Egypt created by expelling residents and demolishing their homes.
Israel has been conducting a naval blockade to prevent the influx of weapons to Gazan terrorists, while monitoring its border crossings with Gaza and allowing humanitarian goods in – a facet that has been exploited by Hamas to rebuild its tunnel attack system and rocket arsenal.