Gazans get much-needed calm, as Hamas works to preserve cease-fire
Twenty-four hours in a city that welcomes the truce, but remains split as to whom it should credit.
GAZA - A few kilometers from Erez was the first sign of the tahadiyeh: A group of Hamas policemen had set up a checkpoint. This is a Qassam launching area, and they were here to make sure no militants approach the border crossing. It was the first day of the cease-fire, and Hamas seemed committed to keeping the calm.
"They really need it," said A., our translator. "They are beginning to lose support, they can feel it. People became fed up with the whole situation, no gas, no oil, no jobs ... They had to do something to lift the embargo."
Early Thursday morning, most of the gas stations in Gaza were still closed and the roads were practically empty, due to the fuel shortages. But a fuel tanker was slowly wriggling its way through the narrow streets of Gaza City. It was headed for Nahal Oz; there had been a delivery of fuel. Whether a goodwill gesture from Israel or just a part of the regular supply, it added to the cautiously optimistic atmosphere in Gaza.
Husam Matar, an English schoolteacher in Nusseirat Camp, was sitting on a park bench. For him, this day felt like any other, though he did hope that the calm would lead to the easing of sanctions. Gaza lacks everything, he said, but most of all freedom.
"I really need to go away - to Egypt, and breathe some air," he said.
Amal Lafi from Gaza City was sitting on a bench nearby. She too thought that the truce was badly needed, but she was less satisfied with the conditions.
"It doesn't include the West Bank," she noted.
None of them considered the cease-fire a victory for Hamas.
"To go back to our land (in Israel), that would be a victory," said Matar.
Ismail al-Ashqar, a senior Hamas legislator, confirmed that the reason they agreed to the cease-fire was to lift the siege on Gaza. But he would not admit that Hamas was losing its grassroots support. The reason why Israel agreed to the cease-fire, he said, is that they know that a big ground invasion would lead to heavy losses for the Israel Defense Forces.
"They can occupy Gaza in one hour, but it will take forty years for them to get out," he said.
What will make you break the cease-fire?
"We will not break it. But if Israel breaks it, we will respond. If Israel breaks a glass, we will break a glass. If Israel kills a civilian, we will kill one, too. If they assassinate a political leader, we will assassinate one of theirs."
So how will the Qassam crews now spend their days?
"They are not an army. They are a part of our society, teachers and engineers. They will go on with their lives."
Meanwhile, the gas tanker proceeded toward Nahal Oz. There was a delivery at a cooking gas distribution center nearby as well, and a long line of men with empty gas canisters waited in line, some not so patiently. The crowd pusheed, and the Hamas policemen furiously beat the men with wooden batons, to keep them from storming the gates.
When they noticed A. filming the scene with his cell phone, things became tenser. The phone was confiscated, and we were sent to the Beit Lahia police station for interrogation. We were released an hour and a half later, but A.'s cell phone and ID card were not returned.
Meanwhile, in the fields of Beit Lahia, Ala Alian quietly tended his tomatoes and zucchinis. The farmers in the northern Gaza Strip have often been caught in the crossfire between the Palestinian militants and the IDF. Alian saw them launching Qassams from the fields almost every day, but yesterday they didn't come. He doesn't think the truce will last very long, two or three months at the most, but at least right now he feels safe. And, who knows, maybe something will finally change in Gaza.
"Inshallah," said Alian and continued watering his zucchini. It was late in the afternoon in Gaza, and the cease-fire was still holding.