Israel’s ‘victory’ has left Gaza City in ruins, but the 50-day war has strengthened Hamas’s influence
Gaza began the long process of picking up the pieces of shattered lives and homes on Wednesday after 50 days of bloodshed and destruction.
The streets of Gaza City were clogged with tuk-tuks and donkey-drawn carts, many laden with women, children and pitiful possessions, heading towards homes that in thousands of cases have been reduced to rubble and twisted metal.
A conspicuous presence of Hamas-employed military and civilian police was a reminder that, despite the onslaught of the past seven weeks, the militant Islamic organisation that has ruled Gaza for more than seven years remains the only effective power in the tiny enclave. With a ceasefire now in place and so far holding, both sides began to weigh the war’s outcome.
Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been harshly criticised for what many perceived as a war of great costs but few gains.
“After 50 days of warfare in which a terror organisation killed dozens of soldiers and civilians, destroyed the daily routine [and] placed the country in a state of economic distress … we could have expected much more than an announcement of a ceasefire,” analyst Shimon Shiffer wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s top-selling newspaper. “We could have expected the prime minister to go to the president’s residence and inform him of his decision to resign his post.”
But on Wednesday Netanyahu declared victory in the Gaza war, claiming in a news conference broadcast on national TV that Hamas had won nothing in the ceasefire deal and had been “hit hard”.
In the neighbourhood of Shujai’iya, scene of the most intensive battles of the war between Israeli troops and Gaza militants, the Musabeh family picked through the debris of their home. “There is nothing left. We lost everything,” said Naima Musabeh (49). “Where is the good from this? We are destroyed.”
Her son Ali (29) was bitter about the outcome. “This war was for nothing. Yesterday they were giving out sweets in the street and shooting [in celebration], but I was crying when they said it was a victory.”
Next door, another branch of the Musabeh clan cleared rubble with shovels and buckets from their garage to create a space to live in the only part of their house left relatively intact. After weeks in a relative’s basement, the adults of the 10-member family planned to spend Wednesday night sleeping on rugs in the garage.
Asked whether the gains of the conflict outweighed the losses, Bahiya Musabeh was unsure: “We don’t have any details [of the ceasefire agreement]. But this is our fate. We have to accept our destiny.”
And what did she think of Hamas and other militant groups that rejected an Egyptian-proposed truce on the same terms as Tuesday’s agreement a week into the conflict, when the death toll was around a 10th of its final total? “God protect them,” she said.
The rehabilitation of Gaza is expected to take years, even if unlimited quantities of construction materials are permitted to enter.
Under the terms of the ceasefire deal Israel will increase capacity at the Kerem Shalom industrial crossing to expedite the inflow of cement, steel and other materials, as well as allowing more people to leave Gaza. It will also extend its restricted fishing zone.
A joint assessment of needs by the Palestinian Authority and the United Nations is expected to last up to six weeks, with priority being given to displaced families, water and electricity supplies, and urgent healthcare.
Standing in front of a sweep of destroyed factories in Shujai’iya, Frode Mauring, head of the UN development programme, said the true extent of the damage was only now becoming clear: “In modern times, Gaza has not seen this level of destruction,” he said. It would have a “cascade of consequences”.
From the perspective of a straight scoresheet, the number of deaths and the amount of destruction during the war was incomparably greater in Gaza than in Israel, said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Gaza’s Al-Azhar university.
“But in Gaza we measure things in a different way. The Palestinian resistance, with modest military capabilities, was able to fight one of the strongest armies in the region for 50 days. The resistance and the people were not broken. The Palestinians showed resilience and steadfastness. You don’t look at victory and defeat only from a military perspective.”
Support for Hamas was strong on the streets of Gaza on Tuesday night, as mosques declared victory amid celebratory gunfire. But that was a snapshot of a particular moment, said Abusada. “I think Hamas’s popularity will be affected negatively if reconstruction takes a long time,” he added.
Opinions in the Shimbari family from Beit Hanoun – who endured 41 days in an overcrowded and unsanitary UN school shelter, along with thousands of others who had fled the fighting – were divided along generational lines.
“What we want is a calm situation; this is the most important thing,” said Alian Shimbari, grandfather of “about 65”. “This has been the worst war, and we don’t want any more.” His wife Faiyqa (63) agreed. “We just want to live like others, to be safe, for our children to play outside without fear.”
About a dozen teenage grandsons had gathered to listen to their grandparents talk. When asked about whether support for Hamas had increased, the boys’ unequivocal answers drowned out the response of their elders: “Yes.” – © Guardian News & Media 2014