Scenes of joy and cries of triumph amid the ruins

Fri, Nov 23, 2012, 00:00

The mood in Gaza on the first morning of the ceasefire was of joy and triumph, writes RUADHAN MAC CORMAICin Gaza

Ahmad Saleh steps gingerly over the piles of building blocks and shards of glass that lead into the building’s central open space and, coming to a halt in a clearing of ashen soot, presents his family’s living room. It contains a blackened sink and the shell of a cream-coloured cabinet, but otherwise there is only rubble and mangled metal.

“And that’s the Hijazi family’s house,” Saleh says, pointing through his missing wall to a wide 10ft crater filled with tiles, blocks, furniture and toys. His neighbour’s house is gone.

Saleh was watching the television news with his parents and sister at about 7.30pm last Monday, he says, when two missiles fell on the Hijazi house next door. He and his family survived, but Fouad Hijazi and two of his small children were killed while Hijazi’s wife was seriously injured.

Yesterday, as many residents of Gaza’s Jabaliya district emerged from their homes for the first time in a week, neighbours gathered to take in the sight of the vanished home. For Saleh, a 31-year-old wearing a faded tracksuit and flip-flops, the question of whether the seven-day conflict between Hamas and Israel was worth it doesn’t even arise.

“The war was imposed on us,” he says. “We didn’t do anything. Our neighbours didn’t do anything.”

Notwithstanding the grief of bereaved families – a florist in the city said he was expecting a busy day preparing wreaths – the mood in Gaza on the first morning of the ceasefire was of joy and triumph.

Markets and shops re-opened, traffic again clogged the cratered streets and friends caught up after a week of aerial bombardments. Every so often, celebratory gunfire echoed around the city.

Hamas-Fatah reconciliation

Hamas declared it a national holiday, and its militants, brandishing kalashnikovs and RPGs, moved slowly through the streets on the back of their jeeps. When one of the jeeps stopped, children gathered to shake the militants’ hands.

At the biggest rally, jubilant crowds waved green Hamas flags, but hundreds also carried the yellow emblems of the rival Fatah group led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas – a striking image of reconciliation that broke a prevailing pattern of bitterness since Hamas gunmen drove Fatah from the Gaza Strip in 2007.

“Today our unity materialised, Hamas and Fatah are one hand, one rifle and one rocket,” senior Hamas leader Khalil Al-Hayya told several thousand people in the main square of Gaza city.

The destruction wrought by the hundreds of missiles that fell on Gaza city over the past week was everywhere to be seen. At what was once a vast government complex in the city centre, smoke billowed from an undulating sheet of grey ash that covered a space as large as a football pitch. Across the road, a bank had been turned into an empty shell.

The ceasefire between Hamas and Israel calls for the easing of the six-year-old Israeli-led blockade on the Gaza Strip – a major point of grievance for Palestinians.

Wrangling over how far restrictions over crossing points into Israel and Egypt might be lifted has already begun, but for now many of the 1.7 million Gazans crammed into the narrow Mediterranean strip were in buoyant, optimistic mood.

Kamal Barawi, a Hamas police inspector, struck a defiant note as he sifted through rubble at the site of a destroyed government office. “It will be rebuilt,” he said; more important was that rockets from Gaza reached as far as Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, for the first time.

“No Arab country has hit Tel Aviv except the resistance,” Barawi says, using the term widely used here to describe the Palestinian groups that fought against Israel this week. “It’s a great performance.”

At Shifa hospital, Gaza’s largest, the corridors were packed with visitors who had come to see injured relatives and friends.

‘We won the war’

Lying in his bed on a first-floor ward, 35-year-old Mohammed Abu Zada (35) explained that he was probably one of the last people in Gaza to hear about the ceasefire.

A traffic policeman, he fell into a coma after his station in the east of the territory was hit by a missile five days ago, and didn’t wake up until Wednesday night. “I don’t remember anything at all,” he said of the bombing. Like many others, Abu Zada was sceptical about whether the time had come for Israel and Hamas to work out a long-term settlement together.

“Israel can’t stick to any agreement,” he said. “They can’t keep a promise.”

In Jabaliya, meanwhile, everyone seemed to be out on the street. Among them was 10-year-old Badr Mahroun, who was playing near the twisted shell of a destroyed car, a green Hamas flag wrapped around him. On the boy’s shoulder was an full-sized imitation papier-mâché rocket.

“I’m carrying it because we won the war,” he said.