GAZA CITY: 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 afield 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.
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 meters 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.
Local factories also make Crimpos, a large marshmallow coated in a thick layer of chocolate.
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 tons of Crimpos were cleared for export to Bahrain, crossing through Israel and the West Bank to Jordan, and onward to the Gulf Arab state.
After increased Gaza rocket
fire following Trump’s peace proposal, Israel again tightened the export rules and canceled 500 permits for Gazans to work in Israel.
But Wadiya remains optimistic.
“If you can succeed in Gaza, you can succeed anywhere.”