Few gains for Gaza after Hamas 'victory' over Israel

Hamas promised it would break the Israeli-led economic blockade of the Gaza Strip as a result of the latest war with Israel. So far, it isn't working out that way.

Ahmed Zakot/Reuters
Was it worth it? Gaza City prayers today in a mosque damaged by an Israeli airstrike in August.

Palestinians here just endured a devastating conflict, with thousands dead and countless homes destroyed. Hamas promised that its resistance would break the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip.

But two weeks after the Islamist movement's cease-fire with Israel, Hamas has little to show for the war and hasn’t made a peep about restarting the conflict anytime soon.

“We know the people are waiting and are asking when are we going to see the siege lifted and the borders opened … but these things need time,” says Ihab al-Ghusain, director of the government media office in Gaza. “We shouldn’t be in a hurry.”

But he says that if change doesn't come, continued economic pressure on the territory is liable to lead to a worse outbreak of violence.

Without an end to the blockade "the people will explode again,” says Mr. al-Ghusain. He says pressure from the bottom, from people whose relatives were killed or lost homes to Israeli air strikes, will mount. "They won’t be silent.”

In Gaza City's Shejaiyeh neighborhood, which saw some of the fiercest fighting between the Israeli military and Palestinian fighters, swathes of homes lie demolished or damaged beyond repair.

Men sit in the shadows of their former homes, drinking tea or cola and poking at the dusty rubble. Abu Shaadi, a retired teacher whose home was demolished in all three of the recent conflicts – 2009, 2012, and this summer – is exasperated with both Palestinian leaders who engage in fruitless negotiations with Israel and US President Barack Obama’s support for Israel’s “right to defend itself.”

“Who has the right to defend himself, the occupier or the occupied?” he asks.

“We want an honest solution for the Palestinian problem … a total solution,” says Mahmoud Wadiye, who supports international forces coming to help Palestinians establish and protect a state of their own.

No rewards

But Israel, which lost 66 soldiers and seven civilians in the war, has been loath to reward what it sees as terrorism. It continued fighting until Hamas agreed to essentially the same deal it rejected a week into the war.

“We feel that Netanyahu is determined to deprive the Palestinians of any tangible results,” says Mkhaimer Abusada, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. “Netanyahu doesn’t want Hamas to show that resistance pays off.”

The day after the cease-fire was announced, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement: “The Egyptian ceasefire proposal … includes none of Hamas’ declared conditions for ending the fighting: Hamas does not receive an airport; Hamas does not receive a seaport; Hamas does not receive the release of prisoners; and Hamas does not receive money for its payroll.”

Israel held out only the vaguest hope of future concessions. “If Hamas honors the ceasefire, within a month indirect negotiations will begin, during which Israel will raise the issue of the demilitarization of Gaza.”

But Khalil, a grandfather in Shejaiyeh, says only when Palestinians gain a state of their own will they consider disarming. “OK, give us back the land and let us live in peace, and then they can discuss taking back the weapons,” he says, holding his infant grandson amid the rubble.

Round four?

Such attitudes, compounded by the cumulative damage of three successive conflicts – the last of which was by far the most devastating, could pose a serious security threat to Israel if it doesn’t substantially change its approach.

“If Israel continues its policy it’s going to be disastrous – more disastrous than before the war because now 100,000 people are homeless,” says Prof. Abusada.

To be sure, not all Hamas members are content with the cease-fire.

A wounded fighter from Hamas’s armed wing, the Al Qassam Brigades, says that while the movement secured a big victory he wants more.

“I want to scatter the Israelis in the next war,” says the hefty fighter, recalling witnessing a friend blown to pieces by an Israeli drone strike in the latest fight. “I swear I'm going to cut Israelis in the same kind of pieces.”

But others are starting to have doubts about the value of a victory that has brought few tangible results.

“No doubt, to stand [against Israel] for 51 days – this is in itself a victory,” says Hani Jarour, a shopkeeper who hosted and fed 31 displaced Palestinians in his home for three weeks, despite not earning enough to support his family of seven.

“There’s a big amount of sacrificing, but what's the achievement? … We are not seeing big achievements here, so a lot of people think there will be another war in one or two years.”

Hamas has little leverage to pressure Israel into making concessions now, apart from returning to the fighting.

“The big problem with the agreement is that there are no guarantees,” says Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister in Gaza until early June. He says if change doesn't come, more bloodshed is likely.

“If they keep the siege in Gaza, this means they plant the seeds of a new round of violence.”

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