Amid Gaza's Rubble and Ruin, Some Voices of Optimism Surface

Despite the shock at the scale of the Israeli strikes, Gaza residents report no shortage of food and draw encouragement from Palestinian solidarity

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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A Palestinian mother plays with her daughter at the beach in Gaza City, May 22, 2021.
A Palestinian mother plays with her daughter at the beach in Gaza City, May 22, 2021. Credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

For many residents of the Gaza Strip, the full scope of the destruction caused by Israeli airstrikes and artillery became evident only after the cease-fire that took effect at 2 A.M. on Friday. In neighborhoods across the Hamas-controlled coastal enclave, there were mourning tents pitched near the ruins of destroyed buildings.

But despite the suffering, some Gaza residents who spoke with Haaretz said the mood was cautiously optimistic. Compared to the aftermath of the war that Israel and Hamas fought during the summer of 2014, “there’s no doubt that we’re more optimistic this time, not just because fewer people were killed and that it lasted for a lot less time, but because there’s a whiff of a change of approach in both the domestic Palestinian arena and the international arena,” a source affiliated with the Hamas political wing said.

“It’s true that the suffering is great and tens of thousands of people abandoned their homes,” he added. “It’s true that there’s electricity only three to four hours per day, and it’s true that the scale of the destruction is huge. Nevertheless, we think that this time, things have changed.”

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As evidence of the change, he cited the 120 truckloads of aid that entered Gaza from Egypt on Sunday. Several other Arab countries have also promised to assist in the reconstruction work, “and that’s also a positive change.”

When it comes to the Palestinian riots both inside Israel and in the West Bank during the week and a half of the hostilities between Israel and Hamas, he said they were in no way a marginal aspect of the story.

“It’s true that Gaza suffered most of the shooting and destruction, but there’s a feeling of solidarity at the popular level that didn’t exist in 2014,” he remarked. “That gave Hamas a tailwind.”

In addition, there’s a sense that the international community, including the United States, didn’t give Israel carte blanche to do as it pleased in Gaza, the source noted.

Despite their shock at the scale of the Israeli strikes, thousands of Gazans went to the beach over the weekend, some Gazans told Haaretz.

“People simply want to revitalize themselves, despite it all,” said Ahmed, a resident of Gaza City. “It’s not that we’ve forgotten or aren’t pained by our dead, but life in Gaza is already moving on very quickly. A day after the cease-fire, many people are already at the beach.”

Even the famed Maldive Gaza Café, which was bombed towards the end of the fighting and sustained heavy damage, hosted customers over the weekend. Some Gazans are already looking to the future in the hope that the fighting won’t resume.

There is no shortage of food or other staple products in the Strip. Residents said that unlike in 2014, this time around, there were no panicked crowds besieging bakeries and grocery stores, since there was a sense that the fighting would end relatively quickly.

The Erez and Kerem Shalom border crossings between Israel and Gaza were due to open on Monday for the transfer of humanitarian aid.

“Now they’re threatening that there will be no reconstruction or that they will close the crossings, but it’s clear this is a venting of anger and frustration of sorts on Israel’s part,” said Samir Zaqout of Gaza’s Al Mezan Center for Human Rights. It was his sense from Arab countries, Europe and the United States that things would have to change.

“I’m not saying the situation is rosy, or that everything looks optimistic. Absolutely not,” he said. “The scale of the destruction is enormous, and so is the pain of families who have lost their loved ones. Nevertheless, this time there’s a feeling of both international and domestic Palestinian solidarity, and that’s the source of the public’s feelings of optimism. Maybe I’m living in a fantasyland or maybe not, but there’s something different in the air.”

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