Gaza Strip – The entrepreneurs of Gaza, a close-knit group who worked hand in hand to improve new graduates’ prospects, are reeling from the relentless killing of their colleagues by Israel as it bombards the blockaded Gaza Strip.
Mohammed Sharif Yousef, an entrepreneurship consultant at the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), has lost many friends and peers, some of them killed after they were displaced to the areas in the south that the Israeli army claimed were safe.
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Yousef himself was displaced from his home in Gaza City and is now in the southern city of Khan Younis.
He has more than 10 years of experience as an entrepreneur, trainer, mentor, and coach, but his displacement put him in a new role: volunteer relief worker.
“Families didn’t have the money to buy flour, which was barely available, or canned goods or vegetables,” he said.
Yousef used his motorcycle to deliver provisions to families who needed them. Eventually, his bike ran out of fuel so he kept running it using paint thinner, which led to some malfunctions but still enabled him to go out daily.
But as the casualties from Israel’s aerial bombardment kept increasing, he stopped going out.
The people in Yousef’s network had been the ones who found technological solutions to Gaza’s problems and, as their institutions grew, had created jobs for graduates with few work opportunities due to a 17-year siege imposed by Israel on Gaza.
On October 30, Yousef heard that his good friend Tariq Thabet, who directed the business incubator at the University College of Applied Sciences in Gaza, had been killed.
“I didn’t expect it,” Yousef said, in shock. “He had just returned from a trip from the US after receiving a Fulbright scholarship.”
Yousef said Thabet had, over about a decade and a half, helped thousands of young people find jobs, making a huge difference in a region as constrained as Gaza.
On November 14, two weeks after Thabet’s death, Yousef received more devastating news – Abdelhamid al-Fayoumi, another friend, had been killed.
The two had become close friends after working together including at Gaza Sky Geeks and Work Without Borders.
They were roommates at a certain point, Yousef said, adding that Abdelhamid was a fantastic cook, whipping up mujadaras (rice and lentils with caramelised onions) and maqlubas (a layered meat, vegetable and rice dish cooked one way and flipped the other upon serving) on a moment’s notice.
They had promised to sit down with each other after the war, to talk about ideas and explore new horizons.
Al-Fayoumi had founded Sanabel, which produced software and multimedia resources for the local and regional Arab markets.
“Sanabel moved from failure to success and then sustainability, with a team working at an international level,” Yousef said.
“What I loved about him was his diligence and the high productivity of his team. He … achieved success for many entrepreneurs in Gaza, but now that has all stopped. Israel is killing Gaza’s entrepreneur cadres.”
As Israel’s brutal offensive on Palestinians in Gaza nears the end of its second month, the scale of destruction goes beyond the physical.
The human cost has been staggering. According to the health ministry in Gaza, more than 15,500 people have been killed, and another 6,800 are missing under the rubble of their homes, presumed dead. With more than 41,000 others wounded, this means that one in every 40 Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip has been killed or injured by Israeli attacks.
The vast majority of the victims are civilians – men, women and children. Among the professional class, dozens of doctors, university lecturers, business owners and journalists have been killed.
In addition, roads, universities, historical buildings and places of worship have been targeted by Israeli warplanes and artillery. At least 60 percent of residential units in the Gaza Strip have been destroyed or damaged, in addition to 339 educational facilities.
The targeting of an ethnic group’s political and economic leadership is known as “eliticide”, a word coined in the 1990s by British journalist Michael Nicholson to describe the Bijeljina massacre in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
According to Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura, a genocide expert, researcher and lecturer, the purpose of eliticide is to prevent the targeted community from regenerating or rebuilding itself.
“Targeting intellectuals, academics, activists, leaders of any sort has always been a common thread in genocide,” she wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Killings of the most notable of your community are done to make you remember nobody is safe, to make you lose hope, to ensure the community doesn’t resist or reorganise.”
On the same day al-Fayoumi was killed, Gaza’s entrepreneurs were dealt another heavy blow when Dr Yasser al-Alam, the “godfather of entrepreneurship”, was killed in an Israeli attack on the central town of Deir el-Balah.
“Dr Yasser … was a calm thinker and was keen on initiatives for innovative solutions,” Yousef recalled.
Al-Alam was known for finding unexpected solutions and creating innovative marketing strategies.
“We expected [al-Alam] to have a great impact in the future, but his influence will remain in our hearts and minds,” Yousef said.
“All those who passed away in this war, whether I mentioned them or not, left a painful impact,” Yousef said.
“We must make their killings the fuel that pushes us towards the success of entrepreneurship in Gaza to complete their journey.”