In a smart building in an upscale neighbourhood of Gaza City, Salah El-Zanin is seeing a growing number of clients. Trained in Greece, he is the only plastic surgeon in Gaza with European qualifications, and his business is booming.
Some of his patients want to repair scars left by bombs and bullets; others are young men and women seeking everything from nose jobs to breast enlargements.
“Women are all the same everywhere,” said Zanin, who has been practising for 30 years and whose three-room clinic is bedecked with certificates announcing his qualifications. “They may speak different languages, but they all have the same desires and needs about beauty and life.”
In a conservative society such as Gaza, where the Islamist group Hamas has held sway since 2007, it is hard to pin down how widespread plastic surgery is becoming. But Zanin says three years ago he might have seen a couple of patients a day, and now he sees up to 15.
In his reception hall one recent morning, eight men and women were waiting for their appointments. Some have suffered disfiguring injuries from the wars Israel and Hamas have fought in Gaza since 2008. Others might want anything from botox injections to liposuction to nose and breast operations.
“When a man or a woman has a big nose, that is ugly,” he said. “When we do it for them, they will look better and handsome and as a result they will feel better.”
Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, has an unemployment rate of 45 percent and a per capita income of just $950 a year. It is a wonder residents can afford to spend what little they have on cosmetic operations.
But Zanin said the desire for a better appearance was universal, even if Gazans were initially reluctant. He declined to say how much his treatments cost, but said they were less expensive than anywhere else in the world.
“The beginning was difficult, the issue of trust, people’s fears towards cosmetic surgery and the fact that they did not know me,” he said. Now, his popularity means he is regularly importing new equipment from Europe to keep up with demand.
Zanin says he doesn’t carry out operations that contravene religious practices and makes sure that husbands are aware and involved when it comes to their wives’ treatments.
Mohammed, who was wounded in last year’s war between Hamas and Israel, has received treatment for painful nerve damage in his legs after losing a large amount of flesh. Two months on, he says the legs look better and the pain has gone.
Those waiting to see Zanin this week did not want to speak about their cosmetic surgery plans, but one woman who recently underwent a breast enlargement at his clinic pronounced herself very pleased with the results.
“I feel more confident in myself now,” she said. “I smile when I look at myself in the mirror.”
© ReutersMar 2015