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Shopping in Gaza's flea market

Gaza’s markets offering secondhand goods are frequented by the poor and rich who are searching for high-quality goods at reduced prices.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Before sunrise, at 5:30 a.m., hundreds of men and women gather at the popular markets in the Gaza Strip to rummage through piles of secondhand clothes in search of inexpensive items in light of the difficult economic times, or in search of international fashion brands that are no longer offered in Gaza's traditional markets.

At the break of dawn, merchants open the large bags of hand-me-down clothes, shoes and bags that they exhibit in front of their small shops or sidewalk stalls that line the streets of popular markets. Merchant Akram Basal told Al-Monitor, “We arrive at 5:30 a.m. to find people already waiting for us. The secret [for customers] is to beat the competition and arrive early to get the best merchandise. We sell around 1.5 tons of used goods in a single day.” Concerning the price of such goods, Basal said, “In these popular markets, no item costs more than 2 shekels [$0.50]. The economic situation is difficult indeed, and people come here in large numbers in winter or summer to buy goods of all types and sizes.”

Parents bring their children along to these markets to find them clothing at affordable prices. Mohamed al-Zamta, who was searching through piles of clothing for a dress for his daughter, told Al-Monitor, “Most new clothes available in traditional markets are of an inferior quality and made in China. Here I can find good-quality items for my daughter at affordable prices.” The young girl said, as she danced and swayed to show off the dress she was trying on, “There are beautiful dresses here.”

Secondhand goods are not limited to clothes; they include items such as shoes, bags, belts, curtains and children’s toys. The Wednesday flea market in the center of Khan Yunis, in southern Gaza, attracts all kinds of customers in search for items from used chairs to toys and schoolbags.

As 9 a.m. approaches and the sun begins pounding the heads of buyers, merchants cut their prices in half. One such merchant, Mohamed Rajab, stood in the middle of a pile of clothes and called out, “The price of each item has been reduced to 1 shekel only!” Rajab told Al-Monitor, “In the early morning hours, people get to choose the best merchandise and the atmosphere is pleasant. But later on as the temperature rises, prices drop along with the quality of the remaining goods.”

Rummaging through secondhand goods is not just for Gaza’s poor, as those who are well-off also frequent the market stalls selling used goods. Thrift shop owner Ashraf Abu Hasira, who sells his wares in Gaza City’s affluent Rammal neighborhood, told Al-Monitor that most of his customers come from middle- or upper-class families in search of quality and brand names. He said, “People come in their expensive cars to look for world-renowned fashion brand names that we sell at prices below the original price.”

Popular markets abound in the Gaza Strip and each area in Gaza has its set market days: Saturday and Wednesday in the cities of Rafah and Khan Yunis; Sunday, Monday and Thursday in the center of Gaza; and Friday in the Shajaiya and Firas neighborhoods, east of Gaza City.

At the Rafah used goods market, Louai Abu Akr, a man in his 30s, rummages through piles of clothes for hours in search of the best international fashion brands that cost him less than $0.50 per item. Surrounded by heaps of fabric, he told Al-Monitor, “I have been going through a sea of world-renowned fashion brands for four hours and I am not embarrassed to be doing so, as people constantly ask me where I get my unique clothes. They know that international fashion brands lack sales points in Gaza, and as a result they can only be found by going through heaps of clothes such as these.”

University student Shirine Ahmad told Al-Monitor, “I find my clothing and footwear at the markets that sell secondhand goods. In the summer I wear light cotton clothing that I find on my regular visits here in search for new fashion brands and designs. I have noticed that clothes found at these markets are more in tune with world trends when compared to what is available in markets selling new items.”

Customer Nour Atallah told Al-Monitor that the demand for used clothing increases in winter. She said, “In winter we need more clothes than we do in summer. Cold weather clothes are more expensive than summer clothing. As a result we buy more of them [at the used goods markets].”

Secondhand store owner Adeeb Kahil confirmed Atallah’s words and said, “Demand in winter is greater than it is during the summer months, and we sell more merchandise then.”

Used merchandise from Israel and European countries include international brands such as Calvin Klein, Castro Men, Tommy Hilfiger, Zara, Ralph Lauren and Lacoste. Gaza Strip merchants buy these goods in Israeli markets where used clothes that Israelis discard and often leave in front of their homes, particularly during Passover, are sold. Israeli merchants collect and collate these goods in cardboard boxes that they sell to Palestinian merchants in large quantities.

With regard to how these secondhand clothes reach Gaza, used merchandise seller Rami al-Sindawi told Al-Monitor, “We purchase these goods in large quantities from Israel. The price per ton ranges from $1,500 to $2,000. We then sort the merchandise and distribute it — based on quality — to shops and markets. The cost of clothing has risen lately. In the past we used to pay $500 for a ton only. But the government raised the taxes imposed on used goods, and we now have to pay $100 in taxes for each ton, compared to the $40 that we previously paid.”

Fayez Mikdad, who has been importing and selling used goods for the past 30 years, told Al-Monitor, “In the past we imported merchandise from Israel and a variety of European countries, but today goods are becoming scarcer as the economic situation has grown more difficult. In addition, we used to import [dozens] of tons per week but now barely import 5 tons a week.”

Whether because they are too poor to afford anything else or because they are looking for international brands at reduced prices, Gazans are flocking to markets selling used items, thus increasing the demands on the goods sold there. The number of merchants has been on the rise also, despite the difficulty of the job — especially when it comes to the substantial time investment to sort through, purchase, transport and display the goods.

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