14 June 2012
By Najwa Al-Sheikh
For Mujahed El Sosi, the general director of a furniture company in Gaza, the five years that have passed since the tightening of the Gaza blockade have felt equal to the fifty years of his lifetime.
In 1987, he established Sosi Furniture Company, which became the best of its kind in the Gaza Strip. Before Israel imposed its blockade on the Strip, Israel and the West Bank had been the main export markets of Mujahed’s products. On average, the factory exported up to 25 large containers worth of futniture to Israel every year through the Karni crossing. With 150 workers, the factory was functioning at its full capacity to meet the needs of the market.
"Our products were of high quality and were competing well inside the Israeli markets", said Mujahed. He participated in dozens of furniture exhibitions in Jordan, Yemen, Cairo, Algeria, and many other international fairs – promoting his products and finding good markets.
Since the Gaza Strip was sealed, Mujahed’s work was severely affected; he was no longer able to buy the raw materials from Israel at the same prices. Accordingly, his company’s profits declined to less than five per cent of pre-blockade levels, and the number of his labourers decreased from 150 to only 35. "During the last five years, hopes of ending the blockade and of restoring the export of our goods were always in our minds, but there has been nothing to give us much hope", he continued.
The Israeli claims of lifting the blockade were just not reflected in Mujahed’s experience. From his point of view, the Gaza market has a surplus of raw materials, but manufacturers are not able to export their products.
Nowadays, Israel has allowed some goods out after much international mediation. Before the blockade, 130 to 150 trucks of furniture items were exported to Israel; now that has slowed to almost zero, and the process of exporting through the Kerem Shalom crossing is time-consuming and costly.
Mujahed went through a complicated, costly, and demoralising process to allow him only a ”one-time” export of some of his product samples to participate in an exhibition in Jordan; it took him 45 days to co-ordinate through the Ministry of National Commerce and the Ministry of Civil Affairs on the Israeli side, and then he had to wait another three weeks to receive approval from the Israeli side. In the end it cost him ten times more than he was paying before the blockade.
In addition, he said that he had to hire both Palestinian and Israeli labourers to help fold the items one by one, and re-package them again after they passed inspections at the checkpoint into Israel. Some parts of the furniture, like glass, were very fragile and delicate, and the manual inspection process on the Israeli side exposed them to damage and scratches.
According to Mujahed, "The samples that were sent to Jordan were severely damaged and were not accepted by the businesspeople attending the exhibition. In the end, we had to cover the costs of all the damage — which further hit our potential profits."
“If the blockade ended”, Mujahed said wistfully, “then we would resume our work with our previous clients, and export our products again. From this point, I would address the international community: help alleviate our suffering, and exert pressure on the Israeli side to scan the exported items to avoid any loss or damage.”
2. UNRWA provided 42,684 job creation programme (JCP) contracts in 2010 and 30,972 in 2011. Current projections indicate that an estimated 10,000 JCP contracts will be provided in 2012 due to budget shortfalls.