Gaza gets back to business

The Maldive Gaza cafe was badly damaged by Israel in May. 

Ashraf Amra APA images

The Maldive Gaza does exactly what its name suggests. Serving tropical fruit juice on the seafront, the three-story cafe offers the holiday ambience of the Maldives in Palestine.

The writer Ahmed Masoud has celebrated it as a “happy place.” Yet the joy brought during its short history came to an abrupt halt recently.

Opened last year, the cafe was badly damaged by Israel during the 11-day bombardment of Gaza in May.

The team behind the cafe is adamant that its story must not end there.

Repair work was carried out rapidly and the cafe reopened for business just one day after the Israeli attack ended.

“We repaired it for our customers and for our workers,” said Imad al-Bayya, an owner of the cafe. “They have to feed their families. And I have to feed mine.”

Due to financial constraints, only part of the cafe has actually been rebuilt. Its owners plan to fix the remaining part once they have enough money.

Even though customers cannot avoid seeing the damage, al-Bayya felt it was important that he get back to business.

“We are challenging the occupation,” he said. “They have tried to put a stop to our work. But we are determined to keep going.”

The Maldive Gaza pictured last year. 

Mahmoud Ajjar APA images

An estimated 525 businesses were destroyed or damaged during Israel’s attack in May.

Many of them were located in al-Rimal, the commercial hub of Gaza City.

“Stand on our own feet”

Two restaurants belonging to the al-Susi family were badly damaged when Israel bombed the neighboring Shorouq tower.

Muhammad al-Susi was on his way to one of the restaurants – which specializes in falafel – when he witnessed the tower being bombed.

Al-Susi was very close to the tower. He ran away from it, but had not got far when Israel fired another missile.

Though the missile targeted the tower, the explosion had a significant impact on al-Susi’s restaurant.

Al-Susi was injured in the leg during the blast yet he insisted on checking the restaurant.

He was shocked to see the door had been shattered, the walls were damaged and the sign advertising the restaurant had been blown off. Rubble from the Shorouq tower clogged the restaurant’s entrance.

Israel’s attack came at arguably the worst possible time for Gaza’s entrepreneurs. Businesses had already suffered badly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To try and recoup some losses, the al-Susi brothers reopened their business soon after the attack. As the falafel restaurant was so badly damaged, they are renting another location in the area.

“We have decided to stand on our own feet,” said Muhammad al-Susi. “We have gone back to work despite everything that we have endured this year. We could not wait for aid from local or international organizations. We have to provide for our families’ basic needs. And we need to earn money so that we can repair the restaurant.”

“No choice”

Almost 9,000 acres of farmland and greenhouses were damaged by Israel during the May attack. A new report published by the United Nations and European Union suggests that damage to farms and businesses reliant on agriculture in May could total up to $45 million.

The Gaza authorities have estimated that the direct and indirect losses incurred by the agricultural sector were more than $200 million.

It was too dangerous for Hamada Khudeir to work during the 11 days of Israel’s attack. He has a farm in al-Atatra, which is approximately 1 km from the boundary between Gaza and Israel.

When he went to his land after the ceasefire, Khudeir was confronted with a scene of devastation.

“The trees and crops I planted over the two months before then were ruined,” he said. “The greenhouses were destroyed. So were the solar panels and the irrigation system.”

Part of the farm had been spared from Israel’s bombing.

Yet it was not the optimal time to harvest the potatoes planted in that area. They should have been harvested earlier in May – at the very time Israel was attacking Gaza.

As nine members of Khudeir’s family rely on his income, it was necessary to resume work without delay.

He borrowed money to fix the irrigation system and plant new crops.

“I know that everything could be destroyed again,” he said. “But I have no choice than to work as a farmer. I have poured my heart into this land. Soon it will be full once more of tomatoes, potatoes and other crops.”

Khuloud Rabah Sulaiman is a journalist living in Gaza.