“If Hamas doesn’t respond to Israel’s aggression, people criticize it and complain about its passivity. If it responds to aggression by firing Qassam rockets, people are afraid it will escalate the situation into a war. Poor Hamas and poor people of Gaza,” said a friend living in Gaza, summarizing a night and day of Qassams and airstrikes.
He continued: “You can’t enter the sea because of all the sewage flowing into it, but in the afternoon people go in droves to the beach, the only place where there's any wind. They flee their hot homes, which have no electricity or air conditioning, often without running water either. Yesterday [Wednesday], the Israelis bombed the port and everyone, poor things, ran away and scattered in panic.”
Nobody in Gaza slept that night, he said over the phone, and others agreed in separate phone conversations. They all had their own metaphors. “The whole house shook from the blasts, the furniture swayed and the kitchen utensils rattled,” said an acquaintance who lives in the northern Gaza Strip, where Israel’s shells landed particularly close. By chance, his grandchildren who live in Gaza were visiting him.
“The poor kids, they trembled with fear all night. They were scared by Israel’s bombs, by Qassam rockets – after all, I can’t tell the difference between the different types of weapons," he said.
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"And then news arrived that someone from our area, Ali Ghandour, was killed by Israeli shelling in a farmed area. They say he belonged to the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam brigades. He left behind a wife and five children. The problem is not with those who die or are killed, but with those who survive. How will she manage on her own, how will their children live without a father?
“Part of the public supports and justifies anything Hamas does. Some oppose it and are afraid of war. But nobody wants a war. Here, in Deir al-Balah, a young pregnant mother was killed – they were Inas and her daughter Bayan, who was 1 and a half years old. We don’t have reinforced rooms, warning sirens or Iron Dome.
“The bigger problem we have is that we live in an era of ignorance, particularly the ignorance among young people. They’re suffocating. With electricity on for only three or four hours a day, they sit outside without any jobs, sponging a cigarette here and a shekel for a cigarette there. They don’t think. They don’t know how and what to think. Anyone who was better off financially left for the West Bank or went overseas a long time ago. The streets are now full of young men hobbling along on crutches. These are the wounded of the March of Return.”
Reliving the 2014 war
And then he came to his political analysis, with the voices of his granddaughters playing in the background. “It’s convenient for Israel that Hamas is in power, they want it to stay that way," he said.
"We’re a miserable nation, with everyone abusing us. On the one hand Israel, on the other hand Hamas, with [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas as a third factor. If only they’d open the Erez checkpoint and let people get work and make a living, everyone would forget about Hamas.” Indeed, my interlocutor worked in Israel for 35 years.
Another friend's voice immediately betrayed the fact that she hadn’t slept all night and didn’t manage to sleep during the day either. “During the bombing on Wednesday night, I relived all the 55 days of the 2014 war. Having learned from experience, we opened all the windows so the glass wouldn’t shatter from the blasts; we moved away from the windows so that drone operators wouldn’t decide that we were spotters for Hamas and fire missiles at us," she said.
"So many people we know were killed that way in previous wars. We checked that no curious child had gone on the roof, or that there were pigeons there that needed feeding, or a woman taking down laundry. In all the previous wars and preludes to war, your army fired missiles and killed women and children who were on rooftops.
“The tall residential tower near us was bombed during the last war. It folded and collapsed in front of our eyes. Our whole house was filled with dust and soot. Since then it was rebuilt. But last night, during the bombardment, all night I saw it fold and collapse again. Now we’re waiting to see what the Israeli cabinet decides.
"We don’t understand a thing. Both sides say they don’t want war and both sides shell each other like in a war, inviting escalation. The Israelis killed the pregnant mother and her daughter. Now we heard that a missile was fired from the Gaza Strip at Be'er Sheva. We hear Hamas say they don’t want war, but it’s all at our expense.”
A source in the Palestinian security forces told Amad, a news website linked to supporters of Fatah's Mohammed Dahlan, that the rocket was fired by an extremist Salafi group after other armed groups announced that they would stop responding to Israeli aggression.
According to the website, the missile launched at Be'er Sheva was a “suspicious” action (hinting that the people firing it may have been Israeli collaborators) “that contradicts the common defense strategy,” with its perpetrators associated with “non-national elements.”
According to the source, Hamas security forces, helped by others, are trying to locate this suspicious group. True or not, this is a reflection of Gaza residents’ hopes – that Israel understands that Hamas isn't interested in a war.
“The Qassam rockets on Wednesday were an understandable response to the killing of two Izz al-Din al-Qassam fighters. The fact is, Israel expected the response and admitted that it was a mistake to shoot and kill them. People understand that there has to be a response,” said a Rafah resident, hoping, as others did, for a positive outcome from Israel’s cabinet meeting.
This is proof that Israel and the Palestinian “street,” as he called it, aren’t interested in a war. This is how everyone convinces themselves that soon the bombing and missile attacks would end, that the nightmare would be short this time around.
Still time for a wedding
At Gaza's southern approaches, in the neighborhood of Tel al-Hawa, a wedding took place Wednesday evening. It carried on in the street until 11 P.M. There were songs and dancing, says another friend. Another wedding party, for women only, took place in a hotel on the beach.
The father of the groom insisted that everyone keep dancing at least until 11, concluding with the words: “We’re strange. We’re afraid but unafraid at the same time. We understand what’s happening yet we don’t really understand it. I walked through the streets and everything seemed normal. People were walking about, buying less due to sanctions imposed by Mahmoud Abbas, and because people are saving ahead of the holiday. But no one expects there to be a war. Everyone expects it to end today. It’s a fact, so far only three people have been killed.”
When compared to the 60 or 120 people killed daily by the Israeli army in past campaigns, it's indeed "only" three casualties.
A young female university lecturer who had returned earlier than expected from preparations for the new school year thought everyone was actually hurrying back home early and that traffic was light. Her impression was that many people hadn’t gone to work after the night’s bombardment.
“When people do go out they stay close to home; no one ventures far," she said. "It’s a strange situation. First they say there’s a respite, then it’s the brink of war. We don’t understand anything.”
Her 5-year-old niece heard bombing near the port and got frightened. “Those are fireworks,” the father said in trying to soothe her. “It can’t be,” she scolded him, “no one’s afraid of fireworks.”
A war at this time would find Gaza more beaten and weakened than in the three previous wars. In addition to the impoverishment, exacerbated this year by the slashed salaries of Palestinian Authority employees, Israel has prohibited the flow of fuel into Gaza since August 2. Reserves are dwindling since the flow was also stopped between July 16 and 24, in response to the incendiary kites.
The dire fuel shortage threatens the operation of hospitals, which are filled to capacity with people wounded in the March of Return, and suffer a shortage of medications and supplies.
The fuel shortage required some municipalities to reduce sewage treatment and garbage disposal. On Wednesday, health organizations and water- and public health agencies warned that to ensure the operation of central hospitals and water- and public health services to the end of the week, emergency fuel reaching at least 60,000 liters must be supplied.
“The fuel is there, waiting for approval by Israeli authorities so that it can be moved in,” the organizations said in a statement.
In the absence of regular and adequate electricity supplies, the emergency fuel will go to hospital generators and for the operation of water- and sewage treatment facilities. If this emergency supply is not provided immediately, 1.2 million people will be threatened by sewage overflow around the 41 sewage pumping stations scattered across Gaza.