The new Hamas-linked tourist destinations in Gaza that I reported on last Thursday has been noticed by AFP, although relatively few news sites have picked up on it:
The tranquil lawns of the seaside Garden Resort are a high-end oasis in the impoverished Gaza Strip -- and a new source of income for the Hamas-linked charity that owns it.Just like Darfur!
The beach club, one of several commercial ventures recently launched by groups and individuals linked to Hamas, illustrates the Islamist movement's growing dominance of an economy crippled by a four-year-old Israeli blockade.
The 1.25 million dollar (one million euro) resort is owned and operated by the Islamic Foundation, a charity established by Hamas's spiritual founder, Ahmed Yassin, that has long provided aid to poor families and orphans.
Some 2,000 people have visited each weekend since the foundation established the club and an adjacent fish farm earlier this year, with most paying the eight dollars per family admission fee and many dining at its restaurant.
The Islamic Foundation has launched eight projects in all, including bakeries, farms, a supermarket and a restaurant, and had a nine million dollar budget in 2009, according to Shihab.
"Fifty percent of the revenues of these projects go to establishing new projects to serve the people," he said. "Any for-profit project must advance the goals of the association and its expansion and continuation."
Just down the beach another Hamas-linked charity, whose headquarters were destroyed by an Israeli air strike during the 2008-2009 Gaza war, has established the Freedom Resort, which includes a new 250,000 dollar wedding hall, according to its director, Saber Abu Kirsh.
Hamas is also widely believed to be behind a new shopping mall that opened this week in Gaza City with a ceremony attended by several Hamas ministers and professors at the Hamas-linked Islamic University.
The mall's manager, Siraj Abu Selim, denied Hamas was involved in the three million dollar (2.3 million euro) project, but refused to give the names of any of the mall's owners or chief investors.
Zaza said the government had encouraged the establishment of several commercial projects but had not provided any funding for them.
It plays a more direct role in other projects, however, including the Bisan City tourist village on the northern edge of the territory.
The sprawling facility, which includes gardens, playgrounds, football fields, a petting zoo and restaurants, attracts some 6,000 people every weekend, many of whom are brought in on government-subsidised buses.
And despite the fact that almost all building materials have to be smuggled into the territory, the park includes a new wedding hall and work is under way on what managers say will be an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
The 1.5 million dollar project, built on government land under the supervision of Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad, charges 75 cents for adult admission, with children entering for free.
The 270 dunam (67 acre, 27 hectare) park abuts an 84 dunam cattle and chicken farm as well as food processing facilities, also operated by the interior ministry.
The high-end beach resorts have also proven popular, but many wonder how Hamas-linked groups can build new facilities when thousands of homes severely damaged or destroyed during the war remain in ruins.
Abu Kamal, a 53-year-old man whose home was destroyed during the Israeli assault launched in December 2008 in a bid to halt Palestinian rocket attacks, grumbled at the eight dollar admission fee at the Garden Resort.
"The priority should be to rebuild Gaza and build new homes for those of us who had ours destroyed by the occupation during the war," he said.
The Arabic articles about the resort said that rather than the buses being subsidized by Hamas, they were actually a moneymaker for the group.
I didn't quote it, but AFP also uncritically quotes Hamas leaders as saying that they are awash with cash - without asking about the clear cash crisis that Hamas had only a few months ago.
In the comments on my Gaza Mall video, many of the pro-Arab idiots simply deny that the mall exists and swear that this mall is in Jordan or Egypt. I'm sure that they would say the same about this resort.