Life as a carpenter in the besieged Gaza Strip is proving frustrating for Nahed al-Horani.
Suffocating Israeli restrictions are denying carpenters in Gaza the essentials of their trade: wood, carpentry tools and paint.
Israel bans or severely restricts “dual use” construction materials which it says can be used for military purposes, such as building tunnels, as well as for civilian needs.
These restrictions profoundly impact ordinary Palestinians in Gaza.
“All these unbearable constraints on our main equipment prevent us from having our products in the finest order,” al-Horani said. “The impact on the quality of our work has become severe.”
Al-Horani and his brother Yousef used to work in two separate shops in Deir al-Balah, a town in the central Gaza Strip, before the siege Israel imposed on Gaza eight years ago curtailed the industry.
The two decided to combine their work in one shop to pool their resources.
“Things are scarcer than ever,” al-Horani said.
Six months ago, Israel began preventing entry to Gaza the thick wood best suited to make furniture. Al-Horani said that he is now forced to glue thinner strips of wood together in order to get around the problem.
The Israeli blockade is systematically destroying the furniture industry in Gaza, according to al-Horani, and the craft itself is on the decline, as fewer customers can afford rising prices.
“I am afraid that my career is no longer enough to support my family,” he said.
Daily power outages are also taking their toll, al-Horani added, making work debilitatingly cumbersome.
According to figures compiled by Gaza’s economy ministry, the Israeli Air Force bombed approximately 140 carpentry workshops during the summer 2014 war — 50 of them were completely destroyed. Tens of workers lost their livelihoods.
Ministry undersecretary Imad al-Baz said he was concerned that many workshops are threatened with closure if Israel continues with its devastating policies.
“The Israeli authorities intend to impede the furniture industry in Gaza. They make it extremely difficult for our carpenters to receive the special Israeli permit they require to import certain kinds of wood via the Kerem Shalom crossing,” al-Baz said.
The official said that his ministry had registered dozens of workshops which closed their doors because they find it too hard to get the proper wood.
“Israel only allows access to low-quality wood,” al-Baz said.
Ibrahim Taher used to employ five men in his Gaza City workshop, but they have now left to look for other work.
“Our production has decreased due to lack of wood. Israel has made it a repellent profession for youth in Gaza,” Taher said.
Taher’s customers now increasingly ask for repairs to furniture rather than buying new products.
“It’s what you expect from Gaza citizens, who can barely meet their main needs. They cannot purchase my products. This has become very disappointing,” Taher said. “It is no longer a profitable profession.”
Blow to the economy
The furniture industry used to be a significant sector of the Palestinian economy.
Wadah Bseiso, secretary of Gaza’s Wood Industry Union, said the Israeli decision to prevent raw materials from entering the territory had caused a 20 percent decrease in production and a resulting 1.8 percent decline in overall gross domestic product (GDP).
“The wood industry used to constitute about 9 percent of the Palestinian GDP before the crippling Israeli siege started to suffocate the Gaza Strip in 2007,” Bseiso said.
Bseiso said the sector used to provide work for more than 9,000 people in Gaza.
“Six months ago, the Israeli authorities stopped allowing the required kinds of wood under the pretext that they might be used for military purposes,” he added.
“Israel does not allow wood with thickness exceeding five centimeters, or the kind of paint which is very important for the furniture industry,” Bseiso said.
Bseiso added that he was now concerned that an industry that is also an important part of Palestinian heritage was under serious threat.
“Many efforts are badly needed to preserve this ancient industry that is now extremely endangered due to Israeli practices,” Bseiso said.
Isra Saleh el-Namey is a journalist from Gaza.