Monday, November 29, 2010

Building boom in Gaza

From YNet:
Gaza's residents are no longer complaining about a coriander shortage. Israeli snacks are flowing into the Strip as well, through the Kerem Shalom crossing – at the approval and under the full supervision of the Hamas government.

The lifting of the siege in June gave the Gazans room to breathe. With the money in the Strip – and there is quite a lot of it in dollars, dinars, and even shekels – they can buy whatever they want.

Food and other products flow into Gaza with hardly any restrictions. What doesn't come from Israel, because the price is too high, continues to flow in through the Rafah tunnels.

"There are a slew of products here, and beautiful restaurants. Is this the Gaza we have been hearing about?" A Sudanese official, who arrived in the Strip about a month ago with hundreds of visitors from Arab countries on the "Viva Palestina" aid convoy, was quoted by Palestinian news agency Maan as saying.

"Where is the siege? I don't see it in Gaza. I wish Sudan's residents could live under the conditions of the Gazan siege," he reportedly added.[I could not find the original quote - EoZ]

One of the main characteristics of the economic change in the Strip is the renovation and construction drive. Buildings are being built in every corner. Hamas is renovating the public buildings destroyed in Israeli air raids during Operation Cast Lead, including the bombed Legislative Council building on Omar al-Mukhtar Boulevard and the police headquarters.

But the renovation of public buildings is nothing compared to Hamas' flagship project: The building of 25,000 new housing units in the city, some on lands of the former Gush Katif settlements.

The goal is not only to overcome the huge apartment shortage – which stems mainly from the natural growth, the damages of the war, and the halt in construction in the past three years – but mainly to benefit the people, whose support Hamas seeks in order to establish its rule.

The plan is to construct multi-story buildings ("we have no land to spare," explains a Gaza housing ministry official) and neighborhoods built as independent residential areas. A mosque will be set up at the center of each neighborhood, alongside shopping centers, schools and kindergartens. Access roads will be paved and even playgrounds for children.

Hamas has allotted tens of millions of dollars to the building project. There is apparently no shortage of money. Generous donations are flowing in from Iran, Islamic associations across the Arab worlds, and governmental elements in Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, as well as Western elements.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been mercilessly pursuing Hamas in the West Bank, is aiding Gaza with millions of dollars, boasting that 57% of the Palestinian Authority budget is directed at the Strip.

Abbas pays the salaries of 70,000 government workers from the post-Hamas era, maintains the health and education systems, and even funds some of Gaza's electricity production expenses.

International organizations are also operating in Gaza in full force. Since the Turkish flotilla, Israel has approved – through the Civil Administration – 70 projects of building infrastructure for the health, education and sanitation systems by international elements.

At the request of the United Nations secretary-general, Defense Minister Ehud Barak has approved the transfer of building materials – including gravel – for the construction of a large residential neighborhood for refugees in Khan Younis.

In addition, Hamas has been implementing a new tax system: 14% value added tax, 8% income tax. For each liter of gas flowing into the Strip from Gaza and sold for about NIS 2 (50 cents), the government charges 60 agorot (16 cents). A fee is imposed on all goods arriving from Israel. Each new motorcycle smuggled through the tunnels carries an NIS 300 ($82) tax.

In order to settle the contradiction between the new taxes and the laws of Islam, which state that the only taxes which can be collected are 10% of the Muslim's income which must go to charity, Hamas says it is working to create a social justice system.

And so, in measured steps, without a siege and with a lot of foreign aid, Gaza's economy is starting to recover, as is the agriculture and some of the industries. The Hamas government has recovered from Operation Cast Lead, emerged from the financial distress and is now focused not only on improving its military capabilities, but also on strengthening its hold of the government and imposing an Islamic rule in Gaza.