GAZA CITY — The French fries arrive soggy, the chicken having long since lost its crunch. A 12-piece bucket goes for about $27 here — more than twice the $11.50 it costs just across the border in Egypt.
And for fast-food delivery, it is anything but fast: it took more than four hours for the KFC meals to arrive here on a recent afternoon from the franchise where they were cooked in El Arish, Egypt, a journey that involved two taxis, an international border, a smuggling tunnel and a young entrepreneur coordinating it all from a small shop here called Yamama — Arabic for pigeon.
“It’s our right to enjoy that taste the other people all over the world enjoy,” said the entrepreneur, Khalil Efrangi, 31, who started Yamama a few years ago with a fleet of motorbikes ferrying food from Gaza restaurants, the first such delivery service here.
There are no name-brand fast-food franchises on this 140-square-mile coastal strip of 1.7 million Palestinians, where the entry and exit of goods and people remain restricted and the unemployment rate is about 32 percent. Passage into Egypt through the Rafah crossing is limited to about 800 people a day, with men 16 to 40 years old requiring special clearance. Traveling through the Erez crossing into Israel requires a permit and is generally allowed only for medical patients, businessmen and employees of international organizations.
Palestinians generally refer to Gaza as being under siege or blockade by Israel, and isolation from the world is among the most common complaints of people here. That can create an intense longing for what those outside Gaza see as mundane, or ordinary.
“The irregular circumstances in Gaza generate an irregular way of thinking,” explained Fadel Abu Heen, a professor of psychology at Al Aqsa University in Gaza City. “They think of anything that is just behind the border, exactly as the prisoner is thinking of anything beyond the bars.”
Professor Abu Heen noted that when Hamas, the militant Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, breached the border with Egypt in 2008, during the height of the Israeli siege, thousands of Gazans flooded into El Arish and bought not just medicine and food staples but cigarettes, candy and things they did not need — just to show they had managed to bring something back from outside. Breaking the blockade, then and now, is seen as part of resisting the Israeli enemy, giving a sense of empowerment and control to people here, even if it comes in the form of fried chicken.
Even as Israel has relaxed restrictions on imports over the past few years, hundreds of illegal tunnels have flourished in Rafah. Weapons and people are smuggled underground, but so are luxury cars, construction materials and consumer goods like iPads and iPhones. And now: KFC.
Formerly called Kentucky Fried Chicken, a KFC franchise opened in El Arish, just over Gaza’s southern border, in 2011, and in the West Bank city of Ramallah last year. That, along with ubiquitous television advertisements for KFC and other fast-food favorites, has given Gazans a hankering for Colonel Sanders’s secret recipe.