One Man's Struggle to Do Business in Gaza

Abdelhadi 'Hadi' Abushahla at the Karni crossing i i

Gaza businessman Abdelhadi "Hadi" Abushahla stands in front of a closed door to the Karni crossing with Israel. Karni is the point where almost all goods, including his computers, come into Gaza. Nancy Updike hide caption

itoggle caption Nancy Updike
Abdelhadi 'Hadi' Abushahla at the Karni crossing

Gaza businessman Abdelhadi "Hadi" Abushahla stands in front of a closed door to the Karni crossing with Israel. Karni is the point where almost all goods, including his computers, come into Gaza.

Nancy Updike
Gaza map i i

Some 1.3 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, which is 140 square miles in size. Until a September pullout, it was also home to thousands of Israeli settlers and security forces. Melody Kokoszka, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Melody Kokoszka, NPR
Gaza map

Some 1.3 million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, which is 140 square miles in size. Until a September pullout, it was also home to thousands of Israeli settlers and security forces.

Melody Kokoszka, NPR

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.

Part 2 in the Series

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."

About Hadi Abushahla

Abdelhadi Abushahla, who shortens his first name to Hadi with English-speakers, is the oldest of four children: two boys and two girls. Abushahla was born in 1974 in Tripoli, Libya, where his father had settled and married. His father, a native of Gaza, had been outside Gaza on a trip in 1967, when the Six Day War broke out. After the war, Israel began its occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, and did not allow many Palestinians who'd been outside the country during the war to return.

 

In the summer of 1982, the Abushahla family moved to England after being refused residency in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon because they are Palestinians. Later, when Hadi Abushahla was 16 years old, the Jordanian consulate in London crossed his name, and his two sisters' names, off his mother's passport; under Jordanian law, they were not entitled to Jordanian citizenship because their father is Palestinian. In England, the Abushahla family was initially refused long-term residency visas; they took the matter to court and won. Abushahla became a full British national in 1993. He now has British and Palestinian passports.

 

Abushahla attended school in London from the age of 8 onward. At University College London, he got master's degrees in engineering and business finance (he took the finance courses at the London School of Economics). Abushahla grew up learning the family business, a company called Cengreen International, which sold navigational and landing systems to airports throughout the Middle East. He started working at the company full time, as export manager, while finishing his master's degrees. In July 2001, Abushahla moved to Gaza; he started his computer company, Information Technology Partners, in the spring of 2002.

 

—Nancy Updike

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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