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In Gaza, wealthy elite casts spotlight on inequality

Eight in 10 people in the Gaza Strip live below the poverty line, but among them a wealthy elite co-exists. 

GAZA CITY: For eight years, Gaza’s economy has plummeted under an Israeli blockade. The construction sector is paralysed and tens of thousands are unemployed.

Those who do work like Mohammed Abu Bassi, survive on less than US$10 a day. This 27-year-old sells corn, coffee and tea in a vending cart by the sea, and times are so tough that he has attempted suicide twice.

“This situation is a result of the blockade under which we live, including the lack of jobs. So the least a man can do is try to cover the responsibilities of his household,” said Mohammad. “We are young people who are suffering.”

A recent United Nations report says Gaza could become uninhabitable in less than five years, if the current economic and demographic trends continue. According to the latest World Bank economic update, Gaza's unemployment rate at 43.9 per cent is the highest in the world.

And even more alarming, youth unemployment by end 2014 has soared to more than 60 per cent. Around 80 per cent of the population in Gaza receives some kind of international aid, which includes food packages, medication and basic necessities.

But the situation is not bleak for everyone. An unequal society exists in Gaza. While many are barely earning enough to survive, there are pockets of wealth here that own investments worth millions of dollars.

"Nine years of a blockade and three wars on Gaza created a class who benefitted and made very high incomes,” said Sameer Abu Mudalala, an economics professor at Al-Azhar University.

“There is also the middle class that is almost gone, because of the blockade, the high living costs, poverty, and unemployment rates. The others are still suffering from unemployment which is at 44 per cent, while the poverty rate is at 65 per cent.”

It is a different story for wealthy Gazans, whose businesses are built on real estate worth millions of dollars. Those willing to pay for a lavish lifestyle keep the hotels and restaurants, by the Gaza beach and close to the refugee camps, busy at night.

Tourism has taken off too. “Despite the living conditions in Gaza, some people are taking the risk to invest in tourism businesses,” said Muna Al-Ghalyeni. “They are risking their money and efforts."

As Gazan investors continue to pour money in the strip fancy resorts, hotels, and restaurants continue to open as if in defiance of a deteriorating economy, political instability, and the risks of war and violence.