Gaza pri­vate se­cu­rity firms’ mus­cle men ring up dol­lars

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Trained in mar­tial arts and firearms, their mus­cled physiques burst­ing out of tight t-shirts, young men in Gaza are in­creas­ingly find­ing work with pri­vate se­cu­rity firms re­tained by banks, lo­cal celebri­ties and in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors. Three pri­vate se­cu­rity com­pa­nies are now com­pet­ing in Gaza, of­fer­ing pro­tec­tion for high-pro­file Arab and Western del­e­ga­tions or cau­tious busi­ness­men shift­ing goods and cash around the fenced-in ter­ri­tory.

While Ha­mas, the Is­lamist group that has run Gaza since 2007, has its own armed units to pro­tect in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors, it does not ob­ject to com­pe­ti­tion from pri­vate com­pa­nies, as long as they co­or­di­nate with the au­thor­i­ties. Akram AlBalawi, who runs the Cas­tle Se­cu­rity Com­pany, said he had 6,000 ap­pli­cants when he an­nounced he was hir­ing. He snapped up 65 men. “Our staff are care­fully se­lected, they are body-built, highly ed­u­cated and with good man­ners,” said Balawi, sit­ting in his of­fice in the heart of Gaza City. “They are not af­fil­i­ated with po­lit­i­cal fac­tions.”

While Ha­mas main­tains tight se­cu­rity in Gaza, where around two mil­lion Pales­tini­ans live, there are oc­ca­sional skir­mishes among mil­i­tant fac­tions and some crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity. Is­rael also car­ries out oc­ca­sional air strikes in re­sponse to mor­tar fire and has fought sev­eral wars with Ha­mas and other mil­i­tant groups in re­cent years. Balawi said his guards only carry guns when es­cort­ing a con­voy of money or for­eign am­bas­sadors. Ma­jor mis­sions, like vis­its by UN of­fi­cials and se­nior Euro­pean fig­ures, are usu­ally es­corted by Ha­mas-run se­cu­rity, he said.

‘Mus­cle of the tongue’

He re­cently opened the door to women ap­pli­cants. And, with Gaza un­em­ploy­ment at 43 per­cent - and as high as 60 per­cent among grad­u­ates - there is no shortage of can­di­dates for a de­cent pay­ing job. Those ac­cepted re­ceive paid train­ing at a unit of Gaza’s Ha­mas-run In­te­rior Min­istry. They learn mar­tial arts, the use of weapons and how to deal with volatile crowds.

Staff earn be­tween $400 and $600 a month, Balawi said. Eyad Al-Bo­zom, the In­te­rior Min­istry spokesman, said vis­its by in­ter­na­tional del­e­ga­tions are co­or­di­nated with them and Ha­mas’s se­cu­rity teams are not paid. Re­cently their units pro­tected a group of Western diplo­mats in Gaza, he said. “(Pri­vate se­cu­rity) is still a new ex­pe­ri­ence but we are keen to pur­sue it and de­velop it so we give a chance to the civil com­mu­nity to be part of this is­sue,” Bo­zom said.

At an open space in Gaza, 35 new ap­pli­cants were put through their paces, car­ry­ing out sim­u­la­tions on how to pro­tect clients and get them away from dan­ger. A gun, an AK-47 ri­fle and a sub­ma­chine gun were used in the drill. “We learnt that us­ing a weapon is the last re­sort,” said Is­lam Salama, 21, an un­der­grad­u­ate in Ara­bic. “Be­fore the weapon comes the mus­cle of the tongue.”

Saeed Youssef, a 25-year-old busi­ness grad­u­ate, said he rushed to ap­ply be­cause work op­por­tu­ni­ties in Gaza were so scarce. “We are forced to cope with the labour mar­ket. I needed the job to build a life, have a fu­ture,” he said. “Peo­ple view the un­em­ployed as losers, even if they are ed­u­cated.” — Reuters

ADANA: This pic­ture ob­tained from the Ih­las News Agency shows an in­jured girl taken to hospi­tal fol­low­ing a fire at a school. — AFP

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