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In Odd Turn With Israel, Gazans Get Economic Adrenaline Shot from Virus

GAZA CITY — Ziad Qassem’s 25 years as a tailor seemed worthless in the cruel economy of the blockaded Gaza Strip: Unemployed for eight months, piling up debt, he sat idle in his apartment, worried how he would provide for his wife and five children.

The coronavirus came to the rescue.

With demand for masks and protective gear soaring worldwide, Gaza garment factories have been flooded with new orders since early March by merchants from — of all places — Israel, ordinarily seen by much of Gaza’s Palestinian population as the enemy.

The Zahara clothing company in Gaza offered Mr. Qassem, 42, around $12 a day to put his sewing-machine mastery to use.

“I can breathe now,” he said. “I can buy things for my family. When I had no work, I felt psychologically depleted. I didn’t have an extra shekel to give to my kids.”

Across the globe, the pandemic has decimated economies and sent unemployment rates skyrocketing. But in the garment industry in Gaza, where joblessness, poverty and dependency on international aid were already at epidemic proportions, the coronavirus has oddly been a boon.

Apparel was once a pillar of the local economy, with 900 factories employing 36,000 Palestinians. But the industry all but collapsed in 2007 when the militant group Hamas seized control of Gaza and Israel banned the export of clothing from Gaza to Israel or the Israeli-occupied West Bank.