Although the residents of the Gaza Strip are afraid of another war, they believe that only Israel, not Hamas, is interested in a military escalation. That is the impression gained from telephone conversations with several Gaza residents. People in the Gaza Strip believe the Hamas report that Israeli troops went into the Gaza Strip as a “violation of sovereignty” – so members of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, Hamas’s military wing, fired at them.
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According to the report, a unit from the Israel Defense Forces’ Engineering Corps invaded the Gaza Strip east of the town of Qarara. Armed Palestinians fired at the troops. In response, the army shelled not only Izz ad-Din al-Qassam’s lookout point, killing one of its members, but also – according to Palestinian reports – opened intensive fire at the homes of civilians who had nothing to do with the incident.
According to the daily documentation of the PLO’s negotiating department, the IDF attacked various areas in the Strip 35 times in November. One person was killed and 10, including farmers and fishermen, were wounded in these incidents. The difference on Wednesday, then, is that the Palestinians responded to the army’s aggression and an Israeli soldier was wounded.
Not even the Palestinians in Gaza keep close track of these Israeli attacks. For them, the severest ongoing Israeli attack, which harms everyone, is their lack of freedom of movement. For that reason, the residents of Gaza accept the Hamas statements that Israel is responsible for any escalation. As far as they are concerned, what happened on Wednesday is not escalation but a matter of routine.
Despite the occasional despairing statements to the media that war is preferable to the current stalemate, the inhabitants of Gaza cannot bear the thought of another round of warfare in which Israel attacks them in their homes with its advanced, never-ending weaponry. The Hamas authorities are well aware of this, so they have no current political or tactical interest in war.
Contrary to the statements of high-ranking Hamas officials and the military show they produced marking the 27th anniversary of the movement’s founding, they do not have enough weaponry to face off against Israel’s army. Mostly, they cannot afford to act in complete opposition to the will of the vast majority in Gaza.
After their dismal failure to make any political gains at all via the last war (or during the talks for its conclusion), they will have difficulty promising that another war will lead to political and economic improvement and lifting the embargo – things that the previous war did not accomplish.
What remains for Hamas is to work for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. Representatives of the organization’s political wing have been involved for several months in talks with United Nations envoy Robert Serry about changing the mechanism for the entry of raw materials for rebuilding the Strip. This mechanism was established by an agreement between Hamas, Israel and the Palestinian Authority’s Civilian Affairs Ministry (which parallels Israel’s Civil Administration).
Just two weeks ago, high-ranking Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk and Ghazi Hamad of Hamas’s foreign affairs ministry met with Serry during his last visit to the Strip. During the last months, Hamas, together with businessmen and contractors in Gaza, criticized Serry’s complicated mechanism because it allows Israel the ability to hold invasive inspections of the process, make the process cumbersome and slow it down a great deal.
A Hamas source told Haaretz that after the long talks, several of Hamas’s objections were accepted: the prohibition on rebuilding the eastern Gaza Strip was repealed, the prohibition on rebuilding the homes of Hamas officials was repealed, and the requirement of providing coordinates of the homes (which, the source said, Israel has in any case) was repealed.
The pace of importation of concrete picked up slightly last week. But of a list of 200,000 people who need concrete for fixing or rebuilding their homes, which was submitted for the Israeli authorities’ inspection and approval, only about 17,000 names were approved as of last weekend as eligible to receive concrete.
The additional taxes that Hamas collects on about 50 products – taxes that Hamas officials say are used to fund the current expenses of the government offices in Gaza – are causing a great deal of anger. One of the heaviest taxes is on tobacco (which is considered a tax on anyone who is not a member of Hamas, since Hamas members usually do not smoke). According to a merchant in the Strip, a kilogram of loose tobacco costs 160 shekels instead of 35 shekels.
Taxation is a job of government, and this taxation (that the reconciliation government in Ramallah determined was illegal) is an admission by Hamas of its responsibility for the inhabitants of Gaza. This responsibility obligates it to listen to the fears of a population in despair.