Gazans Delight in Home-Produced Chocolate Goodies


Off a bumpy dirt road in Gaza city, a group of children stood outside a half-open factory door, desperate to get their hands on what was being made inside. 

"We want chocolate!" they shouted at a worker as he left the Al-Arees factory, which despite daunting obstacles churns out treats ranging from chocolate-covered biscuits to a Gazan version of a world famous spread, dubbed here 'Natalia'. 

Buckling in the face of candy-crazed kids, the man popped behind the door and returned with enough free chocolate to rot their growing teeth. 

Al-Arees's products are Gazan but their components are not, as few of the basic raw ingredients are produced in the impoverished Mediterranean coastal strip. 

The factory relies on chocolate from as far as Argentina, sugar from African countries and dried eggs from the Netherlands, with other essentials imported from Turkey and Israel. 

Israel controls all goods that enter Gaza, imposing a blockade that tightened after the tiny enclave was seized by the Islamist group Hamas in 2007. 

Hamas has fought three wars with the Jewish state, which frequently strikes the strip in response to projectiles fired by militants at Israel. 

The exchange of fire has escalated since last month after US President Donald Trump unveiled his Middle East peace plan, angrily rejected by the Palestinians as a capitulation to Israeli objectives.   

But even last week -- amid rockets and mortars from Gaza and late night Israeli air strikes -- the chocolate factories kept whirring. 

- Double customs fees -

Gaza has no airport. Goods for the strip are usually brought into Ashdod, an Israeli port around 35 kilometres (21 miles) north of the strip.

Getting them into Gaza requires patience and money.

"From Ashdod we pay for workers and trucks that take these goods to the Kerem Shalom border crossing (between Gaza and Israel)," said Wael Ai, head of Al-Arees.

"Then you take them out of the truck for checks, then onto another truck from Gaza and after about 500 metres you have another checkpoint for Hamas," he added.

"I pay customs twice," he told AFP, meaning once in Ashdod where Israel collects fees on behalf of the official Palestinian government based in the West Bank and then in Gaza to Hamas.

Due to Gaza's electricity shortages, Ai has installed three fuel-guzzling generators. "If you want anything done in Gaza you have to do it yourself," he said.

- 'Natalia' -

Nutella may be a global phenomena, but Gazans clamour for Natalia, their own version of a chocolate and hazelnut spread.

Local factories also make Crimpos, a large marshmallow coated in a thick layer of chocolate.

The treats are popular, but not necessarily profitable. 

Four hundred grams of Natalia sells for just three or four shekels (about a dollar) while Crimpos sell for as little as five shekels per box of 20.

With Gaza's unemployment rate at nearly 50 percent, there is little space to raise prices domestically. 

And exports to more lucrative markets are largely banned by Israel, which permits some vegetables and clothing to be sold abroad but not processed food.

Maher al-Tabbaa of the Gaza Chamber of Commerce insisted that factories in the strip make attractive products that are "forbidden from leaving Gaza."

- First exports of Gaza sweets -

"They are banned from being exported even to the West Bank," he added.

"In Gaza we have a limited market, so the banning of exports weakens the industry."

Despite ongoing tensions, Israel and Hamas have reached a series of agreements over the past year that have slightly eased tensions.

That fragile accord led to an event in December which, for a Gazan producer, could fairly be described as momentous: for the first time in years Gaza exported sweet goods.

Eight tonnes of Crimpos were cleared for export to Bahrain, crossing through Israel and the West Bank to Jordan, and onward to the Gulf Arab state.

"What I exported was one day's work only," said Wael al-Wadiya, chairman of Sarayo Alwadiya company that made the Krembos.

"Right now we have 150 employees at the company. If they open the door to exports we will have people working three shifts -- each one eight hours."

"So the number will go from 150 to between 300 and 450."

But in recent days the situation has slipped backwards again.

After increased Gaza rocket fire following Trump's peace proposal, Israel again tightened the export rules and cancelled 500 permits for Gazans to work in Israel.

But Wadiya remains optimistic.

"If you can succeed in Gaza, you can succeed anywhere."

Comments 6
Missing Samir8 7 months

"Hamas has fought three wars with the Jewish state, which frequently strikes the strip in response to projectiles fired by militants at Israel"

Dirty propaganda. It was israel who started all the wars. Israel was started when they formed zionist jewish terror organizations such as irgun, then they took over Palestine with the help of Britain and kicked out a large portion of its people and oppressed the rest til this day. The violence of the incompetent Hamas is only a symptom of the daily crimes of israel and of them living on stolen land using Palestinian resources while oppressing the Palestinians who own the land. The majority of the people in Gaza are refugees from the parts of Palestine that the zionists turned into israel.

Missing Samir8 7 months

Any violence from the Palestinians is the response to what isrsel has done and is still doing for 70+ years. To claim israel is the one responding is like claiming a thief responded to the violence of the home owner who tried to protect himself, his family and property.

Missing phillipo 7 months

"It was israel who started all the wars." Completely incorrect!!!!!
I would like to take you back to 29th November 1947, the General Assembly of the United Nations is voting to establish two independent states (One Jewish one Arab) in the territory of the British Mandate. The vote is 33-13 in favour, the Jews accepted the plan, the Arabs didn't, and when Israel was created on 15th May 1948 the Arabs invaded and got their asses whipped.
Forward 8 years to 1956 and Egypt closed the Tiran Straits to stop Israeli shipping reaching the port of Eilat forcing Israel to retaliate.
Twelve years later in 1968, Egypt, Jordan and Syria tried (maybe they thought
third time lucky) on again, and lasted just 6 days.
In 1973, at2pm on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, they tried again, and again got whipped.

Missing phillipo 7 months

"Israel controls all goods that enter Gaza"
Not correct!!!
Why aren't they importing via Egypt and the Rafah crossing? Or is that crossing too busy with the import of weapons and ammunition?

Thumb chrisrushlau 7 months

Leb97b by a knockout.

Thumb Maxx 7 months

Actually, Sisi's government has blocked the Rafah crossing. See, Israel does have friends in the neighbourhood. Too bad those "friends" are tyrants that violently oppress their own people.