For a few Gazans, wealth eases pain of year-long siege

One businessman welcomes the cease-fire and the return of supplies from Israel.

A crippling year-long siege has ground nearly all private economic activity here to a halt. Many ordinary Gazans have suffered under months of an Israeli blockade, but a few wealthy Palestinians have managed to maintain a spot of the good life.

Some of the elite cannot divorce themselves from the misery around them. Others are less apologetic.

Maamon Khozendar, a millionaire who owns gas stations throughout Gaza, a construction company, and has holdings in cement and other industries, does not feel guilty about amassing so much wealth in a sea of poverty.

Still, Mr. Khozendar's riches have helped others get by. He pays all of his 106 employees a full wage despite the fact that only a handful of them have actually worked for the past year.

"This is Eastern morality," he says. "Today, when I have bread, I will divide it and we will all eat. Tomorrow, when I don't have bread, we will go together to search."

As part of a five-day-old cease-fire brokered by Egypt, Israel began to gradually ease its economic blockade on Sunday, allowing 90 truckloads of supplies to be transferred into the Gaza Strip. Before the truce went into effect, only 60 to 70 truckloads of supplies were allowed in, said military spokesman Gil Karie.

"It's very exciting," Khozendar says. "Maybe 10 percent of the people here want to fight. The other 1.4 million just want to live their lives. We [the Israelis and the Palestinians] need some quiet. Quiet is good for business and business is definitely good for quiet."

Much of the Gaza landscape consists of dilapidated homes and shops tagged with graffiti along barren patches of shrubs and sand. In contrast, Khozendar's 37-acre farm has rows of olive and pomegranate trees and a view of the Mediterranean Sea.

With influential political connections in Israel, Khozendar says he could call Jerusalem today and be out of Gaza tomorrow. "Businessmen everywhere haveno nationality," he says. "Our passport is Benjamin Franklin."

With houses in Spain, Holland, Russia, and Egypt, he has plenty of places to go. But when he's abroad, he asks himself: " 'Who am I?' Here," he says, "I am the master of this land."

With no business, Khozendar spends his time, and his money, hosting Gaza's elite – lawyers, doctors, engineers – at his farm, trying to encourage a new political dynamic. After all, he says, "The Palestinians have no captain."

Another wealthy Gazan, Ibrahim al-Gosh, who asked that his real name not to used for security reasons, also feels a sense of propriety in Gaza.

"For 800 years, my family ruled this land," he says, puffing on a narghile at the seaside restaurant of the Ottoman-style al-Deira Hotel. For lunch, Mr. Gosh eats curried shrimp, and for dinner, fish imported from Israel.

A majority of Palestinians rely at least in part on handouts provided by the United Nations for nourishment; 80 percent rely on welfare to survive.

However, unlike Khozendar, Mr. Gosh's Rolex, Ray Ban sunglasses, and tailor-made Italian clothing provide him no solace. Every day, for months, as far as he can remember, Gosh has come to the hotel restaurant with his wife, sat at the table where they were married nine months ago, and stared, mostly quietly, out to sea. Even for Gaza's rich, there is nowhere to go, he says.

"Suffering is all over the place," he says. "We have our streets dirty, our markets empty, our hospitals short of supplies."

"In the time of my father, things were much better," he continues, as though he were fated to preside over the last years of a crumbling dynasty. "In the time of my grandfather, things were better still. What have we done here for the past 60 years?"

Khozendar does not approve of such self-pity among the elite of Gaza. "We are a symbol in this country," he says. "We teach the people how to behave."

"Everyone thinks the cooking of his mother is better than the cooking of his wife," he says. "If I make a comparison between my life, and the lives of people outside, I will be miserable. But if I compare my life with my people, I see things much different."

• Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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