GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — At first it was just a passing idea that young Karim Shehadeh, 24, proposed during a chat with two of his friends. They were all trying to find a job and get out of the ranks of the unemployed, which they had found themselves in since graduating from university. Yet, with a little effort and hard work, the idea was transformed into real work that generated profits.
Shehadeh and his two friends, who graduated from various university faculties and had run out of options when it came to looking for work, decided to turn to the social networking site Facebook and use it to make money. "We decided to try it out. We told ourselves that we had nothing to lose. And with a little hard work and effort, we found success," said Shehadeh.
The three friends' idea is based on using Facebook as a tool for marketing and promotional advertising. They attract customers to clothing retailers through a Facebook page they called "Shoping.ps" to link these stores with consumers.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, Shehadeh explained that they professionally photograph the clothing, and list the type of clothing, color, price and store location on the page. Facebook then plays the role of linking the site's users and transforming them into customers for the commercial shops Shehadeh cooperates with. He pointed out that, today, the page has about 96,000 likes from users in Palestine.
Shehadeh noted that, in light of this success, he and his friends have added a website that provides more information about the items displayed on the Facebook page for those who are interested in purchasing a given item.
"The [business] has begun generating profit, through shops advertising their goods on both the Facebook site and the website. We expect that major trade institutions (mobile and telecommunications companies and Internet providers) will soon come to us to advertise," Shehadeh added.
Like these young men, Fatima Yahya, 31, did something similar to escape unemployment. She began learning traditional embroidery, which is a part of Palestine’s ancient heritage, to help her husband and provide for her family's needs.
"My husband spends most days of the week without work, so I decided to enter the labor market through embroidery. I make embroidered dresses by hand," Yahya told Al-Monitor, noting that initially the business was not successful, given the economic recession in the Gaza Strip.
Yet, she did not surrender to failure, and through Facebook Yahya found an opportunity to promote her business and get customers. Thus, she made a page called "Fatima Yahya handicrafts and arts," and used it to advertise her work, promote her goods and bring in customers.
"Facebook greatly helped to bring in customers and promote my products. It opened up a wide space [for my business]. I even get orders from different countries. Through the social networking site, customers outside of Gaza ask me to make Palestinian dresses according to specific standards and specifications. I then send the product via people traveling abroad. It has succeeded time and time again," Yahya added.
Positive comments Yahya has received on Facebook posts have encouraged her to continue. While some users ask to buy her products, others simply praise her work.
Khalid Cherkaoui, an instructor specializing in social media, told Al-Monitor that Palestinians in the Gaza Strip first opened up to the world of Facebook at the beginning of 2010. By the middle of the same year, they had made efforts to use the site as a tool to market their products, according to Cherkaoui.
According to Cherkaoui, Palestinians’ great interest in Facebook was the result of the recent increase in Internet connection speed in Gaza, the ease of access and the popularity of smart devices.
Cherkaoui said that the above factors made Palestinians resort to Facebook as a means to display and promote their products, in light of the recession facing the domestic market and the slow economic activity. "It is a platform that [Gazans] can effectively use to display goods to customers in different places," Cherkaoui noted.
"The spread of [social media] among Gazans made it easy for [businesses] to use paid advertising to ensure that their product reached the largest possible number of users, and they can even market and promote goods across international borders. This has contributed to the establishment of companies in Gaza that work to facilitate the task of advertising on Facebook,” Cherkaoui added.
For his part, Maan Rajab, an economics professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that advertising via Facebook was one of the ways that small-scale producers and entrepreneurs, who were unemployed graduates and did not have a physical shop, could avoid paying taxes and fees for government licenses.
"Since the outbreak of the Aqsa intifada in 2000, the Palestinian territories have experienced a constant deterioration in economic conditions, alongside a rise in unemployment and poverty. Given the increasing number of university graduates looking for work, there has been a general impression that one cannot wait for jobs to come to them. Rather, they have to use all means possible to find jobs themselves," Rajab said.
Rajab stressed that the economic recession in the Gaza Strip is linked to the closure of official border crossings with Israel and Egypt and the destruction of tunnels on the Egyptian border. This has led to a decreased availability of goods and high prices. Thus, consumers are unable to purchase goods, and this had a negative impact on the local market and caused an economic recession in the Gaza Strip.