'I want peace, but there won't be any'
As the tentative ceasefire holds, Israel and Hamas both claim victory in this week’s conflict, while asking whether it actually changed anything
It takes just 10 minutes to walk across no-man’s-land between the Erez checkpoint, in southern Israel, and the northern tip of Gaza, but the landscape changes so radically in those 10 minutes that it can be a disorienting journey. On the Israeli side a smooth multilane carriageway leads to a state-of-the-art border complex where policemen wearing shades and flak vests guard the doors. A sleek American-style cafe sells a dozen varieties of coffee and pastries, and does a busy trade from all the military activity in the area. The surroundings are quiet and virtually empty.
On the Gazan side, where an Israeli-led blockade prevents most residents from coming and going, and development has been held back for decades, the border post is a dilapidated prefab with a sheet of A4 paper marked “Ministry of Foreign Affairs” pinned to the wall. Horses and carts trundle alongside clapped-out cars on roads that are pocked and strewn with debris.
Where there was silence, now there’s a cacophony of engines and car horns.
Events of the past week have accentuated the contrast. Over the eight days of hostilities between Israel and Hamas, the Israelis fired more than 1,500 missiles at locations in the narrow, densely populated Gaza Strip. The bombardment has left a long trail of razed government offices and huge, ashen craters where buildings once stood.
But, yesterday, physical contrast was matched by a difference in the general mood. In Israel the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that came into effect on Wednesday night has prompted a sober, mixed reaction. The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has declared himself satisfied that the operation met its objective of severely disrupting Hamas, and Israel was united in cheering the success of its new missile defence system, which the military says intercepted 84 per cent of rockets coming from the Gaza Strip.
But even though many Israelis are relieved that fighting has come to an end and that a risky ground invasion has been averted, others have raised misgivings about how it was handled. A few hundred residents in southern Israel took to the streets to denounce the deal, fearing that after a brief pause they would once again be the targets of regular rocket attacks.
With a general election just two months away the political consensus of the past week has evaporated, and opposition figures have criticised Netanyahu for not going farther and ordering a ground invasion. “I think the goals of the operation weren’t achieved,” says Shaul Mofaz, the leader of the centrist Kadima party. A poll conducted for Channel 2 News in Israel, published just before the ceasefire came into force, shows 70 per cent of Israelis oppose it.