Relief or calm before the storm?
Though Israel's motives aren't clear, its inability to cow Hamas is, says Saleh Al-Naami
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Even as a tentative peace holds in Gaza, Palestinians gather amidst the rubble of a building in the West Bank destroyed by the Israeli army during a military operation on 19 June
Rihab, 39, wasn't able to convince her husband Saleh Abu Samha, 42, to buy curtains last Friday in Al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, where they reside. Abu Samha told Al-Ahram Weekly that the logic he was working by in denying his wife's request was that the price of curtains, like all other goods, is incredibly high because of the siege. He argued that they should wait until a comprehensive truce is reached so that goods can be imported in a natural manner at lower prices.
Many people in the Gaza Strip are working by the same logic as Abu Samha. Jamal Hamid, 45, is a civil servant, and says that throughout the siege he has been unable to buy clothes for his six children because of the insanely high prices. He hopes that he will be able to purchase clothing as soon as the commercial crossings fully open, and prices return to their normal levels.
Taxi drivers are no longer buying unleaded gasoline from the black market as they had until the truce was announced, for they hope that normal quantities will be imported once the siege is lifted and prices will drop significantly. A vendor of unleaded gasoline wasn't able to impress a taxi driver moving slowly at the southern entrance to Gaza city last Thursday. The young man standing behind several cans of unleaded gasoline had thought that drivers would crowd to buy his ware as soon as he announced that the 20-litre can was now 250 shekels ($70), whereas it had reached 400 shekels ($120) prior to the announcement of the truce. None of the drivers even tried to bargain with the young man and convince him to lower the price, for they knew the reason that he had set the price that he had.
One of these drivers told the Weekly that following the truce and the reopening of commercial crossings, unleaded gasoline will enter the Gaza Strip in large quantities and there will no longer be any need to purchase it in cans. A can will be sold for around 80 shekels ($27), and drivers won't need to resort to the black market any longer for it will be sold at gas stations with reliability and assurance of high quality. Many drivers suspect that traders are mixing unleaded gasoline with oil in order to maximise their profits, and this practice has damaged many car engines.
Although Israel has violated the truce agreement by not allowing 30 per cent of people's needs in, despite three days passing since the truce began and as stipulated by the agreement, Palestinians are hopeful that the truce will open a new page in their lives after so much perpetual suffering. Majid Ibrahim, 41, a lecturer at the Islamic University in Gaza, can't hide his anxious optimism over the truce agreement. Ibrahim told the Weekly that his optimism stems from the belief that if the truce is implemented, conditions in the Gaza Strip will "turn upside down". He added, "I will certainly be able to go to the university in my private car and not have to wait an hour or longer until I find some form of transportation. Those who don't live here can't imagine the people's thirst for lifting this siege. The atrocities this siege has produced are greater than can be imagined."
Ismail Balim, a farmer from Deir Al-Balah, shares Ibrahim's feelings of optimism. Balim's farm was destroyed during Israeli army invasions in the clash points along the eastern borders of Palestinian residential areas. He hopes that the truce will result in a comprehensive lifting of the siege so that he can rebuild his farm that was destroyed and obtain the necessary equipment and materials to do so. Balim told the Weekly that many of those whose farms were bulldozed are unable to work because they don't have fuel to run their tractors. And yet despite his losses, Balim's face is hopeful when he speaks of the future in light of the truce.
Suleiman bin Awad, who owns a car mechanic's workshop, holds that the truce will change his life and that of his colleagues. In many cases they haven't been able to serve their customers due to a lack of spare parts, he says. He told the Weekly that, "any positive change will have an effect on people's living conditions. Right now people are living in a hell that is as far as you can get from normal life."
Those thirsting for a truce readily speak of their harsh experiences with the siege. Ibrahim Emad, 54, lives in Al-Maghazi refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip and told the Weekly that conditions have "become unbearable, for all aspects of life have severely declined and the people's ability to deal with what they are subjected to has deteriorated. For more than 10 days, my family and I have only had one meal a day because there isn't enough gas to cook on, and since I have asthma, we can't use firewood to cook."
Awad Selasil, 41, tried all last week to find a pair of shoes after his had broken. He went to most of the shoe stores in the Al-Shajaieh neighbourhood of Gaza City but couldn't find what he needed. As a result, he had no choice other than to go to one of the shoe repair stores whose business has been thriving in Gaza. Now, however, he is hopeful that Israel will allow in items people are in need of, including shoes.
Observers in the Palestinian arena hold that the truce agreement comprises major achievements for the Palestinian resistance factions. Nehad Al-Sheikh Khalil, a Palestinian researcher, holds that the truce agreement reached by Hamas and Israel through Egyptian mediation forms a precedent, for this is the first time in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Israel has agreed to arrange a ceasefire through a third party with the resistance itself. "Israel's agreement with the resistance factions indicates its inability to disarm them, and suggests that its ability to provide security for its settlers depends upon the will of the Palestinian resistance," he told the Weekly. Sheikh Khalil says that Israel conceded two of its primary conditions for reaching a truce, those being halting arms smuggling operations through the border with Egypt and tying the truce to the release of the Israeli soldier Hamas abducted, Gilad Shalit.
Even Hamas's acceptance of restricting the truce to the Gaza Strip is not seen as a step backward for the resistance in Khalil's opinion. Rather, it means that the resistance movements are free to execute operations against the Israeli army and settlers there. The shooting operation executed by Palestinian resistance fighters last Thursday in the northern West Bank, and which wounded three settlers, was not treated by Israel as a violation of the truce, he offers as an example. Yet Khalil still believes it possible that Israel might use the truce to free itself for addressing the Iranian nuclear programme. It is not in Israel's interest to continue its siege on Gaza at the same time that it attacks Iran, he argues.
As for Hamas politburo member Jamal Abu Hashim, he harbours no delusions over Israel's bets on the truce. Abu Hashim told the Weekly that he believes Israel may have agreed to the truce so as to create conditions that would eventually allow for Shalit's release and then the waging of a major military campaign against the Gaza Strip. Yet Abu Hashim also feels reassured that Israel won't do that because it realises that it won't succeed in destroying the resistance and would only enable the resistance movements to recruit more fighters. "Israel knows the scope of the resistance awaiting it should it undertake any venture to wage war against the Strip," he said. "It agreed to a truce for fear of the outcomes of such a venture."