Friday, November 30, 2012

A gold Porsche and luxury hotels in the world's largest "open air prison"

Anti-Israel activists like to accuse Israel of making Gaza into an “open-air prison.” They don't mention – or maybe don't even know – that Gaza also has a border with Egypt. So to the extent that Gazans are hemmed in, it's thanks to the Egyptians as much as to the Israelis. 

But while Egypt does control what travels into Gaza above ground, below ground there's an extensive network of smuggling tunnels through which smugglers move anything you can imagine. These smuggling tunnels have made many Gazans rich, not least the leaders of Hamas, who heavily tax the tunnel trade. 

The Economist reports:

Hamas leaders seem increasingly content to enjoy the fruits of splendid isolation. The parliamentary car park, full of rickety bangers when Hamas first took office, now gleams with flash new models hauled through the tunnels under the Egyptian border. Two Hummer H3s and a golden Porsche were recently spotted cruising the streets.

Ministers and members of parliament seem unbothered by the lack of accountability as well as reports of money-laundering. “We're hunted and targeted,” explains a self-pitying MP on Hamas's parliamentary ethics committee, who recently spent $28,000 on a new car with the help of a $12,000 loan from the movement.

Besides smuggling Hummers and gold Porsches through the tunnels, the enterprising smugglers of Gaza have also brought in enough materials to support a building boom in the “open-air prison” of Gaza – including the construction of several luxury hotels. Journalists reporting on the dire living conditions in Gaza favour the Gaza Grand Palace Hotel.

The Grand Palace Hotel in Gaza
They can also stay in the al Deira, “an architectural and artistic gem located on the sands of the Gaza coast.  Built in a traditional style featuring graceful arches, vaulted and domed ceilings, hand crafted furniture and open interior spaces, the Al Deira brings to mind a contemporary palace overlooking  blue Mediterranean waters." Take a photo tour here.

The restaurant patio at Al Deira
 But the most luxurious hotel in Gaza is probably the al-Mashtal Hotel, where one night in the Royal Suite will put you back $880 – in U.S. dollars, of course. The jihadists may hate Americans, but they love their dollars.

Terrorist chilling by the pool at al-Mashtal
During a war with Israel, these hotels are among the safest places in Gaza – after all Israel won't bomb a hotel that’s full of journalist and officials from well-financed NGOs. Still, the luxury hotel market isn’t doing well in Gaza. The 222-room al-Mashtal was recently reported to have only ten rooms occupied. Apparently, starting wars with Israel hasn’t been good for attracting upscale tourists. 

On the other hand, when Israel freed hundreds of terrorists in exchange for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, Hamas put 105 of them up at the al-Mashtal as a reward for their crimes against humanity.