Construction for what eventually became the Al-Mashtal Hotel began more than a decade ago, amid high hopes for a settlement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. It continued despite the blockade, and the Spanish ArcMed Hotels chain opened the Al-Mashtal this summer, hoping to attract business visitors and wealthy Gazan families who want to take a vacation without battling the severe travel restrictions imposed on them.
The prisoners’ arrival gave the hotel a welcome boost. Although it has become a popular hangout for Hamas members and wealthy Gazans, business has been slow. The standard room rate is $140 for single occupancy, and the supreme suite costs more than $800 a night.
‘I’m sleeping on the floor’
Ibrahim’s unexpected stay at the Al-Mashtal has taken some getting used to, he said. Because prison food was monotonous, bland and served in small portions, doctors have advised the former inmates not to gorge on the buffet. Menu items such as the fondue bourguignonne will have to wait.
“Our bodies are not used to so much food,” he said as waiters at the hotel’s flagship Barcelona restaurant dashed back and forth between the kitchen and the outdoor oceanfront seating area. “We are eating small portions until our stomachs get used to it.”
Mustafa Maslamani, 47, another former prisoner who is staying at the hotel, said he feels so out of place that he hasn’t managed to sleep on the sprawling bed with white cotton sheets in his room.
“In prison, you share a cell with eight people,” he said while chain-smoking on the hotel’s patio on a recent night as waves crashed nearby. “Here, I have not slept on a bed. I’m sleeping on the floor. I don’t want to forget where I came from.”
Maslamani, who had been imprisoned since he fatally shot two Jewish settlers in 2001, said his punishment won’t fully end until he is allowed to return to Tubas, his native town in the West Bank, where his three sons and three daughters await. Until then, he said, he’s going to enjoy the view and cuisine.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” he said, as he sipped on a freshly served Turkish coffee.