As a Day of Violence Unfolds, Gazans and Israelis Near the Strip Gird for Escalation

Gazans are already suffering from a woeful economy and limited power and water supply, while Israelis nearby are packing up for safer environs

A man standing guard outside the Gaza home of Islamic Jihad's Baha Abu Al-Ata, who was killed by Israel, November 12, 2019.
Mohammed Salem / Reuters

Gazans woke up Tuesday to another escalation with Israel, adding on to the dire economic situation in the Strip, where the consensus is that the assassination of Islamic Jihad commander Baha Abu al-Ata crosses a red line.

Across the border, many Israelis are preferring to pack up and sit out the current round of violence further afield.

In the Gaza Strip, the thinking is that if the leaders of Hamas and Islamic Jihad let an event like Tuesday's targeted killing pass quietly, they will send a message that all commanders in the field, from all the Palestinian factions, are legitimate targets. Thus an escalation is expected after the assassination early Tuesday and Islamic Jihad’s rocket fire in return.

Haaretz WeeklyHaaretz

Gazans may be fed up with the occasional violence and the dire economy, but for now it doesn’t appear that they will be criticizing the forces retaliating against Israel.

Gazans have been waiting for months for improvements in the economy, which would create jobs, as well as improvements in the water and electricity supply that have not arrived.

“Israel looks at the Strip mainly from a security standpoint but the situation in Gaza is far more complicated,” Samir Zakut of Human Rights Watch said.

According to Zakut, despite the promises and the relative calm in recent months, the overall situation isn’t improving.

Gazans fear that Tuesday’s events will deteriorate into a ground offensive by Israel, as happened in the summer of 2014. They believe that Hamas’ response will decide whether there will be a long, drawn-out operation.

“The streets are relatively empty,” Ahmed, a resident of Gaza who asked that his last name not be used , told Haaretz. He said that on Tuesday morning the markets were relatively busy, but “you have to understand that people in Gaza don’t have cash extra cash, so there isn’t much gathering around or people pouncing on stores to stock up on food in case of war.”

Also, amid fears that there will be a gasoline shortage in the coming days, gas stations have been busy all day.

Tuesday's events have not immediately damaged the economy, but that could change if the border crossings stay closed and the temporary reduction in the fishing zone that was imposed on Tuesday isn’t lifted.

Representatives of Gaza fishermen were told that fishing would be limited to 6 nautical miles on Tuesday, and merchants waiting to export produce through the Kerem Shalom crossing found that the gates were closed.

According to civilian sources in Gaza, 70 percent of agricultural products in the Strip are exported. Local demand isn’t big enough and Gaza lacks appropriate storage facilities, thus if the goods don’t leave the Strip within a few days they will rot, causing major losses.

Religious students walk past an Iron Dome battery after Islamic Jihad fired rockets into Israel's south, November 12, 2019.
Jack Guez / AFP

Israeli border towns get hit

Meanwhile, Israelis who live near Gaza say they’re feeling the brunt of the tension, as more than 50 rockets were fired at Israel on Tuesday, and local people are not waiting for an escalation. Many packed their bags at the sound of the first siren.

In the early morning, Erez Bar Hefetz of Kibbutz Nirim was packing for himself and his two children. “In Nirim, most families who have children just upped and left,” Bar Hefetz said.

He made a quick decision to take his children to Jerusalem; it’s not yet clear when they will return. “We assume that even if there’s a strong chance that this will end today or tomorrow, it won’t be the end,” he said.

Many other families near Gaza packed their bags and abandoned the area until the situation becomes clearer. The regional councils near the Strip are constantly receiving notifications of people leaving, though they don’t yet have exact numbers.

Ilanit Swissa and her daughter Renana are still at home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza, which sits just across from Gaza City. If it were up to Swissa, she would have left already, but the fear of being caught in rocket fire far from a shelter has kept her family home, she says.

She already has potential places to go, she’s just waiting for the right moment to leave. Meanwhile, her daughter is doing schoolwork that her teacher has provided to keep the students busy.

Swissa left home during Israel’s air offensive in Gaza in November 2012, after Israel killed Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari – in retrospect, it was a wise decision to leave. Even though the family has been through this before, “when it happens at 5 A.M., you can’t really understand what’s happening around you to respond quickly,” Swissa said.

Many members of a Facebook group of residents near Gaza said they had left. “We fled this morning,” one said. Another added: “I left with the children at 6 A.M.” One woman said her family fled immediately because their home did not have a room reinforced with thick concrete and metal shutters against rockets.

Another said she left for her parents’ home in Ashkelon, even though that city also faces a serious risk of rocket fire. In Ashkelon, “I have someone to help me with the children,” she said.

This article was amended on 13/11/2019 to correct an incorrect reference to a fishing ban.