Accept the Unexpected: The Entrepreneurs of Palestine

Gaza City has a long history of promise and discord. In the Palestinian territories, economic progress comes amid harsh political realities, forcing many local entrepreneurs to make tough choices. These so-called misfit economies sprout up amid conversations on the street, in homes, and at local cafés, showing the indomitable spirit of Palestinians working for themselves, which in turn spurs increased development in the surrounding communities.

The odds, however, are stacked against them. Construction materials haven’t been allowed into Gaza since 2007, when Hamas took over the territory. However, these barriers haven’t stopped numerous building projects from going up over the past few years, leading to a veritable construction boom. The pent-up demand of a rapidly growing population has allowed for the reconstruction of many homes that were badly damaged or destroyed from years of conflict. Local developers learn to adapt to changes in politics and regional issues almost overnight, essentially redefining the speed at which businesses adapt.

These Palestinian entrepreneurs favor prosperity over military power. If a new Palestinian state is born—an event years away at best—their money and expertise will shape its economy. Already, some of the more established Palestinian businessmen include the president of the largest private bank in the Arab world, owners of the Middle East’s leading private international construction company, the architect of Kuwait’s hugely successful investment policy, and an American real estate developer who owns the Ritz-Carlton hotels in New York City and Washington, D.C.

The point here is not a political one, but rather to recognize the universal language of the economy and the ways that even the hardest hit centers in the Middle East still hold an enormous amount of economic potential. The Arab Spring brought turmoil and change to the region, but the street-level view of local entrepreneurs shows that the desire for bettering one’s situation is a remarkably global concept. The work being done now by these “amateur” businessmen is laying the groundwork for future economies of scale, so while the facet may be rough, a little polishing will reveal the gem’s true gleam.