Life in the Gaza Strip
After two weeks of Hamas, a tense quiet in Gaza.
Jerusalem and GAZA CITY, GAZA
Over and over again, one song is heard:Skip to next paragraph
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Hamsawi ma yihab il-mot.
It trails from radios everywhere, on the only station in Gaza.
Hamsawi kermal id-din.
"A Hamas fighter is not afraid of death. A Hamas fighter is for the sake of religion!"
Catchy, high-stepping, and jingoistic, it is the tune that plays all day long on Hamas's Al Aqsa Radio, the only one that remains standing after the turbulent ousting of its Palestinian rival Fatah earlier this month. From the airwaves to the imams' sermons, the message here is one of self-congratulation: for routing corrupt officials, for bringing a feeling of calm after months of internecine gun battles.
But closer to the ground, unofficial channels convey a deep sense of uncertainty. Some say they're relieved that the internal fighting over, while many others express a fear for the future – especially when the local storekeeper suddenly stops selling them food on credit, and when Israeli jets thunder overhead.
Gazans saw more bloodshed Wednesday, following Israeli army incursions near the Gaza-Israel border. Palestinian officials say that the clashes left 13 dead. According to hospital officials another 40 people were wounded by Israeli shells in Gaza City.
'So where do you want me to go?'
For many here, like Ahmad Shalayal, the future feels amorphous. Mr. Shalayal used to have a job with the Palestinian police. Now, he sits at home most days, waiting to see what will happen, and trying to figure out how to support his wife and five children.
"I work for the Palestinian police, but the orders from President [Mahmoud] Abbas were to stay home," he explains. "I still take orders from him, because he will pay me my salary. I am stuck between the salary of Abbas and the orders of Hamas. If they don't sit together and solve the problems, we will die from the suffering."
On a trip to his local supermarket, Shalayal finds the owner and his friends discussing the latest news.
"Come on," argues Ibrahim, who gives only his first name, "don't you see how we feel safe and secure after we got rid of those corrupt guys?"
"And what about the food?" responds Samir, who also gives only one name. "Is this what Hamas wants? To starve people?"
"It's true," nods Imad Al-Tanna, the owner. "This supermarket is going to empty out soon. Tell Hamas to manage to open the Karni crossing [with Israel] and bring me goods to sell."
Shalayal stands at the counter, and, when there's a lull in the political debate, asks for a bag of rice and some cooking oil. Mr. Tanna frowns and shakes his head.
"No more buying on credit," he says to Shalayal. Then Tanna opens up his notebook where he keeps a register of credit purchases. "I'm sorry. Give me something of what you owe me, and then we can open a new page."
Embarrassed, Shayalal snaps back. "So where do you want me to go? Should I ask Abbas to send me some money? Maybe Haniyeh?"
Despite Wednesday's violence, Gaza these days can sometimes feel calmer than normal. The shooting between Fatah and Hamas militants has ended. Residents are enjoying visiting large swaths of beachfront that had once been closed off taken over and "privatized" by Fatah kingpins. Some people are returning to work, while students take their makeup exams.
And yet, there has been a sea change here, and many people are still trying to decide which is more troubling: a Gaza Strip wracked not just by Israeli versus Palestinian violence but also Palestinian-on-Palestinian violence, as it was before, or a Gaza under the thumb of Hamas.
Abu Suhayid, a policeman who alternates between untangling traffic jams outside police headquarters and sitting at his guard post reading the Koran, brags that Hamas's ascendency is already bringing stability. There's no imposition of strict sharia law, but subtle changes are evident.