GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — In a first-of-its-kind initiative, Al-Majd Advertising Solutions set up a giant screen operated by a power generator in al-Qutaibah Square in southern Gaza City last month to show the UEFA Europa League matches.
After the end of the soccer league and with the start of the holy month of Ramadan in late May, organizers plan on screening religious and historical films and documentaries.
This initiative aims to provide free entertainment for citizens in an attempt to ease the electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip, following the bombing of the only power plant in 2006, and to alleviate the suffering of Gazans under the Israeli blockade for more than a decade.
“As an experiment, we started with a giant screen at al-Qutaibah Square, but a high turnout by young Gazans even late at night pushed us to think of ways to expand the initiative in the Gaza Strip,” Leila al-Saadi, the director of public relations at Al-Majd Advertising Solutions, told Al-Monitor.
Al-Majd is one of the leading companies in the field of big screen advertising in Palestine, seeking to optimize outdoor advertising; it launched this initiative within the scope of its corporate social responsibility program.
Saadi said, “The idea was to allow young people to watch the Europa League matches — much anticipated and very popular among Gazans — for free in light of the crippling power outages that last more than 12 hours a day, which prevents soccer fans from watching the matches from the comfort of their homes. [Fans] end up going to cafes that have set up screens."
She added, “Many Gazan soccer fans — especially the youth — cannot afford the luxury of going out in light of the economic crisis and high unemployment rate, which has reached as high as 60.3% among young people ages 20-24 years and 52.1% among those ages 25-29.”
Saadi explained that the company had discussed several plans related to setting up a giant screen to provide entertainment for young Gazans without spending a large amount of money; it came up with the idea of setting up the screen in al-Qutaibah Square at the time of the UEFA Europa League.
“The idea was to set up a giant screen to show various international, Arab and Palestinian films and shows in line with the values of Palestinian society and to promote Palestinian cinematography by screening Palestinian films,” she said.
Saadi explained that the company chose this particular location since it is a large square that includes a park and given its proximity to the city center. She added, “This location is a vital and central point; it is a breathing space for the middle and poor classes in Gaza. This was the most suitable venue for installing the giant screen.”
Saadi noted that the company obtained prior approval from the municipality, which assigned two of its employees to follow up on the screening schedule and related procedures and allocated a daily operating budget. “The initiative is not used for any commercial or advertising purpose and is absolutely free,” she said.
The idea is a work in progress. “We are now showing UEFA matches, but we are planning on showing other programs during the month of Ramadan that starts by the end of May. We are still studying the most appropriate programs in line with the spirit and rituals of Ramadan,” Saadi said.
In regard to the objective behind the idea, she said that all operating institutions and companies have a corporate social responsibility, and that it is in the scope of this responsibility that the company decided to contribute to alleviating the effects of the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip and easing the power cuts crisis, especially through innovative methods.
She noted that the company, which has several outdoor LED advertising screens in different streets in Gaza City, seeks to set up giant screens and that its customers can show their advertisements on these screens in exchange for a fixed fee.
“Expanding this experience is linked to two things: the success of the experiment, and overcoming obstacles and difficulties,” Saadi said, explaining that the company faces exhausting financial difficulties, especially since the initiative is based on offering free access, calling on other interested and concerned companies and institutions to support it and help it spread across the Gaza Strip.
Public relations official at the Gaza municipality Hussein Aoudi told Al-Monitor that the municipal procedures related to the licensing of media and advertising activities are based on relevant regulations issued in 2015. He said, “These regulations govern the publication of any content in the streets in return for a fee, but exempts charities or bodies that carry out social or national activities from paying these fees.”
Aoudi said that Al-Majd Advertising Solutions met the necessary conditions for obtaining a license from the municipality and subsequently installed its giant screen.
Ismail Ahmed, who watches the matches at al-Qutaibah Square, told Al-Monitor, “This idea saved us the money that we would have paid in cafes to watch the soccer matches in light of the ongoing power outages. I pay about $30 each time I go out to watch a soccer match with my friends at a cafe, where we are not allowed to sit without ordering from the menu.”
He added, “This giant screen is set up in a public and open-air location with no specific requirements. Everyone can watch the matches in an atmosphere of enthusiasm and sportsmanship,” he said, noting that he has taken his children with him since this activity is free.
Yassin Madi, a street vendor who sells corn nuts, told Al-Monitor that many people visit al-Qutaibah Square on the weekends and the turnout during the matches shown on the giant screen was spectacular. “Now I sell more at lower prices and I get to watch the soccer matches while working,” he said.