One Man's Struggle to Do Business in Gaza
Palestinian computer entrepreneur Hadi Abushahla is determined to run his businesses and lead a normal life. But the realities of daily life in Gaza -- often punctuated by the sounds of gunfire or the sonic booms of Israeli warplanes -- intrude on his optimistic outlook.
Four years ago, Abushahla left London -- and a successful career as an export manager -- to move to Gaza City and open a computer store. When he arrived, he wore cufflinks, his Arabic was marginal and he had the wrong accent (he'd copied his mother's West Bank style, not his father's Gazan one). He was 27 years old and he'd been visiting Gaza since he was 18.
Living in Gaza, he found out, is not like visiting.
"In Gaza, the minute you open your eyes in the morning, you know you're in a totally different place," Abushahla says. "Everything is different."
Abushahla learned something important about living and doing business in Gaza. Don't wear cufflinks -- people will think you're a show-off. Cultivate the hard g's of the Gazan dialect if you don't want to sound girlish. Do not expect policemen to enforce the law. Get used to not being able to import anything for weeks at a time.
And, have faith that everything will get better.
A computer store in Gaza, even more than most businesses, is a bet on the future. Abushahla's place is an ambitious, sleek, two-floor, glass-and-steel showroom called Information Technology Partners (ITP). Competition, surprisingly, is fierce. Abushahla keeps his profit margins as low as he can stand. He sells a PC and monitor for $367, which means he makes about $5 on a sale.
Because he gives customers credit to buy his computers -- a normal practice for small business in Gaza -- Abushahla is now owed more than $55,000. Some debts go back a year.
But perhaps his biggest obstacle is at a place called Karni. Israel usually closes the import-export checkpoint when there's violence in Gaza. Gaza businessmen never know when the border crossing will re-open once it's been closed.
Abushahla had heard it was open recently and decided to go there and check on an overdue order -- a couple of laptops for a very important customer, Pal Tel, the Palestinian phone company. He had promised to deliver the computers as soon as Karni was open.
At Karni there were some trucks, but no computers. "Open," it turns out, meant partially open. Abushahla was visibly frustrated. "Now I'm going to have a problem with my customer tomorrow. Because he's gonna call me. He's gonna say, 'Karni was open yesterday, why didn't my laptops come in?'"
Abushahla imagines a near future that's better, full of laptops that arrive on time and lots of other changes, too.
"I would like to have a cinema open in Gaza. I'd like to take my wife and go watch a movie, for God's sake. I'd like the newspapers to write whatever they feel like. I would like Gaza to have freedom of speech... if Gaza was cleaned of arms within the next six months, that would be wonderful. It's as simple as that."
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