Palestinian businessman seeks self-funded projects to support Gaza economy

Work is underway to rehabilitate the industrial city of Gaza, officially known as the Gaza Industrial Zone, which was devastated during the May 2021 Israeli war in the Gaza Strip, as part of a self-funded project by Bashar Masri, a Palestinian businessman and Chairman of Bashar Masri, according to the Palestinian Development and Development Agency Investment Company (PADICO).

Masri has self-funded $1 million for the project to be carried out by PADICO under an agreement announced May 25 in Gaza City.

Masri, who is currently in Gaza to oversee work on the industrial city, is seeking other projects to attract investment and develop the local economy in the beleaguered enclave in the absence of funds due to Gaza’s repeated wars.

In the final days of the 11-day military conflict between Israel and Hamas in May 2021, Israeli planes deliberately bombed factories and commercial facilities in the industrial city, inflicting $22 million in heavy casualties.

The bombing came despite the fact that the industrial city is considered a safe area, is in a remote area away from the population, and has never been the target of Israeli bombing in past wars.

But it seems that during last year’s war, Israel wanted to destroy the Palestinian economy.

“This agreement has been reached because rebuilding the destroyed factories is of the utmost importance. Dozens of young men and women would be employed in the project, which when completed would create new job and investment opportunities in the industrial city,” Masri told Al-Monitor.

“I funded this agreement to encourage investors to invest in the coastal enclave. Palestinian investors need to look at the nation’s suffering and the least they can do is invest in Gaza, which is suffering from poor economic conditions,” he noted.

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Masri regrets that Palestine lacks the support of Palestinian investors, who “should use their funds to revitalize their own nation.”

“If we Palestinians don’t invest in our own lands, nobody else will,” he said. “I still have some investment plans that I want to implement in the future.”

This is not the first time Masri has invested in Gaza. “I’ve found [in 2011] Al-Mashtal Hotel in Gaza as part of efforts to promote the most important and outstanding features of tourism in Gaza, which also provides job opportunities for thousands of young people,” he said.

Muhammad al-Najjar, executive vice chairman of Palestine Industrial Estate Development, which founded the Gaza Industrial Estate, told Al-Monitor, “This agreement is an essential step in rebuilding facilities destroyed in the previous war.”

He said, “[The project] would recover about 5,500 [square] meters of destroyed assets worth up to $1 million, which will be the first step, which would be followed by other measures in the coming period to restore life in the industrial city.”

He pointed out that other services in the city would be established and restored, such as solar energy, power generation plants and desalination plants.

Najjar stated, “Although a huge sum of money will not be invested in the PADICO agreement, it will encourage other investors and businessmen to follow suit in order to boost the Gaza Strip’s economy.”

Bajis al-Dalou, head of the investment department in Gaza’s industrial zone, told Al-Monitor: “The industrial city covers an area of ​​500 dunams [123 acres] and includes 52 industrial and commercial sites – 38 industrial sites and 14 commercial sites.”

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He said: “During the Israeli aggression on Gaza in May 2021, 10 factories were completely damaged and 28 partially damaged. The industrial area of ​​Gaza is the most successful and largest industrial area in Palestine [both in Gaza and the West Bank] because it has 24/7 electricity and includes water wells, desalination plants and civil defense and security points – something that makes it a hub for the local economy.”

Dalou noted, “The city also provides employment opportunities for more than 1,200 workers who come locally every day, in addition to the 3,200 workers who used to work remotely for the industrial city. Israel has made sure to hit the nerve of the Palestinian economy in Gaza and turn the Gaza clock back 10 years.”

Despite the destruction caused by Israel, work and production in the industrial city have not come to a standstill. Since the beginning of May, several contractors and construction companies have started reconstruction work in the area to rebuild the 10 factories that were completely destroyed and to restore the rest.

Dalou said construction will be completed in October.

Referring to the obstacles hampering the project, he said Israel continues to restrict imports of materials through the crossing under the pretense of security, while the Hamas government levies heavy taxes on some goods used in the industrial city’s reconstruction.

Dalou said: “I am responsible for communication … with representatives of international institutions. The industrial city is the first stop they visit when they come to the Gaza Strip, and I explain to them that this industrial and manufacturing area is necessary to support the depleted economy of the Gaza Strip, so it should be kept away from political conflicts, because it serves the capital of the factory owner.”

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He added: “To date, the devastation caused by the 2021 war has not been repaired by external means. We have already called on the international community to stand by our side, but it is very difficult to attract donors as their main focus is on financing devastated housing complexes and not on the commercial and industrial sectors.”

Mohammed Abu Jiyab, editor-in-chief of Gaza newspaper Al-Eqtesadia, told Al-Monitor: “The PADICO agreement was the result of a personal initiative and not donor countries, and aims to boost the local economy and encourage entrepreneurs in Gaza too.” invest. It also mainly aims to rebuild the basic infrastructure in the factories [that were completely destroyed] so they can resume operations.”

He said: “The agreement remains insufficient to restore all destroyed plants, facilities and the local economy, which has suffered severe losses of more than $150 million without compensation after four wars.”

Abu Jiyab noted: “Donor countries usually give priority to rebuilding housing and relocating displaced people at the expense of manufacturing and industrial facilities. This has meant that unemployment rates have worsened and the ability of local operators to operate the plants has decreased.”

He concluded: “The private sector used to account for 60% of operational capacity in Gaza. Today, however, as a result of the destruction, the private sector [in Gaza] employs only 15% to 20% of workers. Even at the government level, there is no serious talk about rebuilding the devastated economic sectors that led to the transformation of the manufacturing and industrial sectors into trade and consumption sectors.”

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