MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
One voter on Wednesday will be 31-year old Haddi Abul Shalla (ph). He is the Palestinian entrepreneur we've been following on this program. Abul Shalla was raised in London and four years ago, he moved to Gaza, where his father grew up, to open a computer store and to help build the viable, credible Palestinian state President Bush has talked about.
Nancy Updike reports on how the elections look to Abul Shalla.
NANCY UPDIKE: The campaign vehicle of choice in Gaza City is an old VW Bus mounted with speakers of stupefying girth and power. These buses have been blaring back and forth in front of Abul Shalla's store on Omar Alooktar (ph) street for weeks.
(SOUNDBITE OF CAMPAIGN BUS)
UPDIKE: And then suddenly, in a lull between the buses, as Abul Shalla is standing outside his store, a different kind of campaign rally goes by.
ABDUL SHALLA: Okay, let's go inside. This is a Hamas, what is it, a march?
UPDIKE: It's about 200 Hamas members, some in cars, but most of them on bikes, flying the green and white Hamas flag. Abul Shalla watches the bikers from inside his store.
ABUL SHALLA: You look at them everywhere and it's Hamas this and Hamas that. The posters and the roads, the flags, it's everywhere. They're clever in many ways in the way they portray themselves in front of people: they're strong and they are united, which is something I admire about them in one way. But, it's about time, I'm one person that wants to know how much do they really count for in my population?
UPDIKE: Abul Shalla is like a lot of Palestinians, he is ambivalent about Hamas. He once said, off microphone, that as somebody who's put money into this place, he's scared of a Hamas victory. If they win a majority in the legislative council, they could block any chance of peace talks. But at the same time, Abul Shalla is just as fed up as any other Gaza resident with the current government's utter inability to meet its citizen's basic needs, starting with safety.
Abul Shalla's store, called Information Technology Partners is protected by thick, a mesh metal gate that pulls down from above his display window. But the gate no longer seems like enough. Break-ins keep happening around him, sometimes with guns. Abul Shalla is thinking of spending about $1,000 on a new gate with solid metal rather than mesh. And he is laying down new security rules at the store for everyone, including his brother and business partner Omar.
SHALLA: Omar used to spend some times till 12:00, 1:00 alone during his own sort of work at night. By rule of law from my father and from me now, no staying late because there's been instances where you've had people sort of kidnapping someone to get money from his family or something like that, so --
UPDIKE: Are you worried about that? Are you worried about a member of your family being kidnapped for money?
UPDIKE: It turns out that Abul Shalla was kidnapped a year and a half ago by mistake. The kidnappers thought he was someone else and he wasn't held for ransom, but he was hit in the face with the butt of a gun, punched several times, thrown into the backseat of his own car and driven blindfolded to a refugee camp in the south of Gaza. What's strange is that the kidnapper's leader had no fear about letting Abul Shalla know who he was.
SHALLA: The leader came in and said take his blindfold off and he goes to me, please come and sit down, so I came and sat down at this old sort of couch and I actually asked the guy, I said, okay, you know my name, can you please tell me who you are? And he said, no problem, my name is so and so. And I had, I was meant to have heard his name before because apparently he's a really famous troublemaker in town who's done this sort of thing so many times before.
UPDIKE: The capper to the story is that it seems one member of the kidnapping gang was a policeman. He drove Abul Shalla home after the kidnapping and as they were chatting, mentioned what he did for a living. Abul Shalla and his family decided against making any sort of official report of the incident.
SHALLA: What was I going to get out of it at the end of the day? The only thing I could get out of it was even more trouble so that was the end of the story.
UPDIKE: It's night and Abul Shalla is driving through the streets looking at the flags, flyers, banners, posters and campaign graffiti everywhere.
SHALLA: Hamas flags are the same flags; Hamas flags are the same flags. Okay, there's one Fatah flag there.
UPDIKE: Fatah will be his choice on voting day, he's decided. He says the government does need to change, but he wants the change to be from old Fata to new Fatah, not Fatah to Hamas. He tries to turn down a side road and finds it blocked by giant mounds of dirt. He looks at the mound and says one sentence that sums up how he feels in Gaza a lot of the time, including now, right before the election.
SHALLA: I have no idea what's going on, but I hopes it's for the better.
UPDIKE: In Gaza, Nancy Updike, for NPR News.
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