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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

High-end Gaza spa doing well

From AFP:

GAZA CITY — High above the pot-holed streets, donkey carts and militant graffiti that have come to define the besieged Gaza Strip sits Rosy, the territory's only spa and a refuge for its unlikely upper crust.

"We have the highest quality services in the region," says Mohammed Faris, who launched the spa with his British wife in 1999.

The spa is a sign of how, despite a two-year blockade maintained by Israel and Egypt, a reasonably well-off minority has found a way to endure amid Gaza's bleak landscape of toxic politics and economic paralysis.

A handful of upscale restaurants and hotels still serve lavish meals and fragrant waterpipes to businessmen, landowners, aid workers, journalists and even the occasional senior Hamas official.

The spa offers a full range of amenities -- a steam room, a sauna, a small gym and a beauty parlour. There used to be a Jacuzzi, but Faris had to drain it in 2006 because he could not import the right filters.

A facial runs from 20 to 75 dollars (15 to 50 euros), a one-hour massage is around 40 dollars and a monthly gym membership is around 35 dollars -- small fortunes in a place where most people make less than 15 dollars a day.

Rosy's client base, like Gaza's middle and upper class as a whole, is largely an outgrowth of the political conflicts gripping the territory.

At the top of the pyramid are the international and local staff of UN agencies, aid organisations and human rights groups, and the journalists who cross in and out through Israel's Erez crossing on a daily basis.

Then there are the civil servants who work for the Hamas-run government -- around 20,000 doctors, teachers and other government workers who get regular monthly wages.

And there are the 70,000 employees of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank who -- because of the internal political rivalry -- are paid to stay home and boycott Hamas.

"When they told us to stop going to work, I had a lot more free time, so I decided to spend some of it on sports," says Dana Khaled, 26, who is employed by the finance ministry, during a recent workout.

It may seem wasteful, but the PA salaries -- mostly funded by international donors -- provide a vital lifeline to Gaza's besieged economy.

"Without those wages they would be dead," Faris says. "It's a little straw in our throats that they use to feed us."

More than half of the PA's budget that comes from Western tax dollars goes to pay Gazans for an extended vacation to enjoy spa treatments and expensive restaurants.