Gazans robbed of small joys as blockade causes balloon price inflation

Retailers say costs have increased by 400 per cent

Balloon and party shops are experiencing huge drops in custom, blaming a rise in costs. Nagham Mohanna
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Inside a Gaza’s gift shop, a little girl cries to her mother, begging for a balloon. Instead, Maya’s mother bargains with her, trying to persuade her to buy a lipstick.

"One bad quality balloon costs around $0.23. After five minutes, the balloon will blow up and she will cry again asking for another one," Haneen Othman, 33, told The National.

“So buying a lipstick will distract her for a while,” Ms Othman added, not to mention it will last longer than a balloon.

Maya was happy with the lipstick, which costs her mother around $0.30, because usually she is not allowed to wear it.

Gazans browse a party-ware shop. Nagham Mohanna

Gazan authorities say Israel banned the importation of balloons and other products in July 2018 to Gaza Strip, in retaliation to burning kites launched from Gaza.

In March of that year, Palestinians in Gaza protested against a naval, aerial and land blockade imposed by Israel and neighbouring Egypt since 2006.

The protest, dubbed the great march of return, lasted for 21 months and some demonstrators launched flaming objects attached to kites and balloons into Israel to set fire to agricultural land just over the fence.

The damage amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars and around 306 Palestinians were killed and 32,529 injured during the protests according to Ministry of Health in Gaza statistics.

Children look at party decorations in a Gaza store. Nagham Mohanna

Fady Abed Almajeed, owner of the Gift Palace company in Gaza said sales of balloons has reduced by 60 per cent.

“The 100 balloons used to cost between $2 and $4.50 depending on the quality of the balloons, now it costs around $15 because it comes to Gaza by unofficial channels from Egypt,” Mr Abed Almajeed said

“The price increased around 400 per cent, customers don’t accept these prices. Instead of buying 100 balloons they buy only 10 or 20,” he added.

Not only are sales difficult to come by. Mr Abed Almajeed lost around $17,000 when Israeli authorities confiscated a truck filled with balloons on its way into Gaza.

Israel denies restricting imports of balloons.

“The State of Israel permits the entry of various products into the Gaza Strip in order to answer the needs of civilian life in the Strip, as long as the products are not intended for terrorist purposes and for the use of the terrorist organizations,” the Co-ordination of Government Activities in the Territories told The National.

But Abed Al Fatah Abu Mossa, spokesman of the National Economy Ministry in Gaza said balloons are “among the material that are banned from entry into Gaza by the Israeli occupation since 2018, after the start of the great march of return”.

Gazans are saddened by the increased costs limiting celebrations.

Kholod Ibraheem, 36, was disappointed she couldn’t prepare for her child’s first birthday party in the way she wanted.

“I was looking through the internet for decoration designs, and chose number of them but when I went to buy the balloons for the decorations I was shocked by the price,” Ms Ibraheem said.

She is used to using balloons to make birthday parties special for her loved ones, and is upset she can’t give her newest child the celebration she has given her other children.

“Instead of buying 50 balloons, I only bought 20. It cost me around $3,” she added. The average monthly wage in Gaza is just $206, Palestinian Statistics Centre figures show.

On the day of the party, at Gaza’s café on Gaza beach, 25 children beg to take one of the balloons to play with or take home, but the precious commodity means they aren’t allowed.

“I used to make giveaway gifts for the children with candy and put inside it balloon, but this time I only put candy” Ms Ibraheem said.

Ahmed Abu Fayyad, 32, working in Haddayana mall’s decoration party department, said customers are now choosing flowers to decorate their events.

“In the summer we used to decorate two to three parties and events a day, now we decorate two to three a month, because customers prefer to make the decorations themselves,” he said.

“Before it cost $40 to make the decorations for a party, now it costs $90, which is expensive for customers”.