Mohamad al-Assar was asleep when his factory was bombed. On a steamy night in August 2014, he was awakened not by the explosion but by a phone call from the security guard at the plant. The concrete-mixing factory, 2 miles north of his home and adjacent to the only highway in the Gaza Strip, had been attacked in the final days of the seven-week war between Israel and Islamist militants. When al-Assar got there at dawn, he saw nothing but devastation. Two neighbors were dead. The offices had been reduced to rubble. The storage silos were heaps of metal. An 18-wheel concrete-pumping truck had been thrown across the road. “I just sat in the ruins and cried,” al-Assar says, scrolling through photos of the destruction on his phone.
He knew he had to open again; the plant provided a living for al-Assar and his 40 workers. But building any kind of factory requires tons of cement. In al-Assar’s case, about 100 tons. Problem is, sales of cement are strictly regulated in Gaza, and al-Assar had little time. Buying cement legally would have required detailed plans and myriad approvals, and he had customers who needed to rebuild. So in January 2015 he did what almost everyone in Gaza has gotten accustomed to after decades of Israeli occupation and blockade: He went to the black market. He paid about double the going rate of just over $100 per ton, but he managed to restart production by that March. “I needed to get things moving,” he says in the fact