Flight From Gaza / Last to Leave Did Turn Out the Lights

Slightly before Shabbat came in on Friday evening, U.S. citizen G. reached the Palestinian side of the Erez Crossing. G., the headmaster of a private school in Gaza, may have been the last Westerner to leave the Strip. The last one to leave did indeed turn off the lights: The Palestinian side was empty. The Fatah police positions had already been looted, doors, windows and light fixtures ripped out and all office equipment taken away on donkey carts. To the small number of unemployed taxi drivers at the crossing, the view evoked memories of the Gaza settlements after the disengagement.

An Israeli tank fired at anyone who tried to approach. Even Abu Bassal, the mustachioed Palestinian police officer who always checked our documents when we crossed into Gaza, was gone. He called one of the drivers yesterday from his hiding place and asked about his office. Nothing left, the taxi driver told him.

After a few days during which no one dared go outside in Gaza, yesterday marked a giant buying spree. On Omar Al-Mukhtar Road, everything was snatched up. Prices soared: NIS 7 for a pack of cigarettes, instead of NIS 6, brown beans for NIS 3 per can instead of NIS 2. Anyone with any cash left came to buy. Gunmen from the new government visited shop owners and warned them not to overcharge. Hamas is a social-welfare movement, don't you know? There were lines at the gas stations, too: Gazans know the borders are closed. No one can predict what that means for gas supplies.

The violent images of the period preceding the weekend calm haunts the residents. Gaza, bleeding and besieged, must carry out its own moral reckoning. The Israelis are the last ones with the right to preach to them. These violent young men, whom we saw killing each other so cruelly, are the children of the winter of 1987, the children of the first intifada. Most of them have never been outside of the Gaza Strip. They saw their older brothers beaten and injured, their parents imprisoned in their own homes, without jobs or hope, for years. Their whole lives have been lived in the shadow of Israeli violence: They saw Israeli Defense Forces helicopters firing missiles at cars in city centers, warplanes dropping bombs on their neighbors' homes and cannons lobbing shells into neighborhoods filled with children. They grew up with death, desperation and disgraceful poverty, which have only increased since the Israeli withdrawal and the total imprisonment that came in its wake.

In Gaza this weekend, people did not know whether to laugh or to cry. No one can say what the new situation will bring. The detachment from the West Bank is now total. No more "one people with two states," according to the parlance of Israeli alchemy. Not even one state. Just fear, want and helplessness. "We're done, halas, it's all over, we're like chickens in a cage," my good friend M., who once plucked chickens in Tel Aviv's Hatikva market, said to me yesterday.