Luxury Mall Opens in Gaza City
Grand opening ignored by most media correspondents in the area.
Though Hamas maintains that the Gaza Strip still suffers from a lack of construction material and continues to accuse Israel of pursuing a “siege” against the enclave by keeping border crossings shut, a luxury mall held its grand opening over the weekend in Gaza City.
The mall would not have been out of place in any Western country. Opening mere weeks after Israel announced that it would ease its Gaza blockade after mounting international pressure, it features “Israeli men’s trousers at an attractive price”, American-made men’s shirts, girl’s clothes from France and boy’s clothes from Turkey, according to an Israeli blog.
The “Gaza Mall” – the first mall to open in Gaza in the four years since Hamas took power – has air conditioning, a large supermarket, a food court, a parking lot and security guards. It also offers to deliver purchases to customers’ homes.
According to Arabic website Paltimes, the mall will include “all the supplies needed by the family” with prices that will be “low in nature and attractive.” A wide range of products will be available, food, clothing, perfumes, shoes, household appliances and office supplies.
The manager of the mall, Salah Abu Abdo, was quoted as saying, “The opening of the (Gaza Mall) under the conditions of the continuing siege on the Gaza Strip and at low prices encourages Gazan citizens to buy (and) is a great achievement." He added that Gazan families can use their computers to shop from home by using the e-shopping service.
Political and media commentator Tom Gross, who featured photos of the mall on his blog, www.tomgrossmedia.com, asked on his blog why the media has largely shied away from covering the mall’s opening, while instead focusing on EU Senior Foreign Affairs Representative Catherine Ashton’s weekend visit to Gaza and her Sunday morning statement that Israel should lift the blockade on Gaza.
For example, Sky News stated in an article on Saturday, “A month after Israel announced it was easing its blockade of Gaza, food supplies are getting better. But the overall humanitarian situation remains dire.”
Gross commented: “On a day when (because EU Foreign Policy Chief Baroness Ashton is in Gaza) the BBC and other media have featured extensive reports all day long on what they term the dire economic situation in Gaza, why are they not mentioning the new shopping mall that opened there yesterday?”
In a posting on Huffington Post, Jacob Shrybman, the Assistant Director of the Sderot Media Center, wrote about the mall’s opening. He criticized UNRWA President John Ging for stating on the same day as the mall opened that Gazans "can't afford to buy cans of Coca Cola from Israel." Shrybman wrote, “But they can afford new clothes, luxury hair products, and children's toys at the new Gaza ‘Strip Mall?’ Is John Ging kidding me? The UN gave nearly $200 million in aid to Gaza in just the six months following Operation Cast Lead. It only gave $10 million in aid to Haiti following the devastating earthquake.”
Photos of the mall – some taken by Associated Press, though it has not written about the opening – show a sleek, modern, two-floor edifice complete with multi-coloured balloons and throngs of happy shoppers. Stores are packed with products ranging from women’s cosmetics to children’s toys. There are carnival activities for kids, including clowns and face painting a children’s clothing store features a pink Mickey Mouse-type mascot waving at passersby.
Though there is pervasive poverty in the Gaza Strip, there is also a flourishing upper class – an elite group made up of Hamas officials, people with high level positions in NGOs or jobs with foreign consulates, and well-paid UN workers. There are also smugglers and local crime bosses whose wealth stems from booming business skirting Israel’s blockade.
Gross’s blog also contains photos of other luxury attractions that have opened up in Gaza, including an Olympic-size swimming pool and the Roots Club in Gaza, a restaurant that has a 12-page menu with gourmet fare like steak au poivre and chicken cordon bleu.
“As I have written before, of course there is poverty in parts of Gaza,” wrote Gross. “There is poverty in parts of Israel too. But when was the last time a foreign journalist based in Israel left the pampered lounge bars and restaurants of the King David and American Colony hotels in Jerusalem and went to check out the slum-like areas of southern Tel Aviv? Or the hard-hit Negev towns of Netivot or Rahat?”