Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.
A Palestinian woman walks through the rubble of destroyed buildings in part of Gaza City's al-Tufah neighbourhood as the fragile ceasefire in the Gaza Strip enters a second day on Wednesday, August 6, 2014. (photo credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP)
Gaza, like the cities of Israel, is slowly returning to normal. Kind of.
There are cars on its roads once more, and shoppers are flooding its markets. “We became accustomed very quickly to war – and even faster to peace,” Sameh, a prominent political analyst in Gaza, told The Times of Israel Wednesday.
But the quiet, he said, is deceptive. “It’s not over yet. Hamas is under a lot of pressure to return to fighting if Egypt and Israel don’t allow the blockade to be lifted,” Sameh said.
The residents of the Gaza Strip are torn between wanting the fighting to go on and wanting it to stop, he added.
“Those who have lost their children and relatives actually want the fighting to continue. So do those whose houses were destroyed,” he said. “They don’t have anything to lose anymore, and they are pressuring [Hamas] not to stop now unless the blockade is lifted completely. On the other hand, those whose houses are still standing want it to end.”
Sameh added, “You are sorely mistaken if you think it’s over. Have you seen any of the Hamas top brass leave the bunkers? From the political or the military wing? Yesterday, they said in no uncertain terms: We’re in the middle stage, not at the end of the war. And they are already preparing for the renewal of the clashes. They can’t stop now without a significant achievement in Cairo.”
A shell lies on the ground at the heavily damaged Sobhi Abu Karsh school in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood, Tuesday, August 5, 2014. (photo credit: Mohammed Abed/AFP)
I asked him if easing the restrictions on movement through the border crossings with Israel would prevent Hamas from renewing the fighting.
“Forget about it,” he said. “If they don’t get the opening of the Rafah crossing or agreement to build a port, they’ll start firing rockets again – and then we’ll have a tougher war ahead of us.”
Other analysts sounded more hesitant. One of them explained that Gaza was like a soldier who was seriously wounded in battle, but in the heat of the moment, continued to attack. “Now that the clashes have come to a halt, Gaza will start screaming with pain. And I doubt it can stand on its feet long enough for another round of clashes.”
Indeed, much of Gaza lies in ruins, particularly in areas such as Shejaiya, Beit Hanoun and Hiza. Like many other Gazans, Bassem went to see what remained of his destroyed house in Shejaiya on Tuesday — or rather, what didn’t remain of it.
Palestinian collect their belongings from ruined homes destroyed by Israeli shelling in the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya, Tuesday, August 4, 2014. (photo credit: Emad Nasser/Flash90)
“There was nothing to see,” he told me. “Rubble. I tried to work out which heap of rubble belonged to my house and which pile of wrecked walls was the neighbor’s.”
He has managed to rent a small apartment in a different neighborhood in Gaza City. There, he and his family have been living along with 45 other Gazans, without electricity or a working toilet.
That’s not unusual. Reporters in Gaza estimate that nearly 300,000 Gazans were displaced during the war. Their houses were completely destroyed or too badly damaged to return to.
“Who will rebuild your house?” I asked Bassem.
“I have no idea,” he replied. “Nobody knows. This is the question everyone in Gaza wants answered now. We’re trying to see what will come out of [the talks in] Cairo. Maybe we’ll get some word from there. Otherwise, I don’t know what to say.”
Bassem and his family are relatively lucky; not everyone is able to rent an alternative house or apartment. Most of the displaced Gazans who went out Tuesday to see the ruins of their houses returned to their relatives’ houses, or to UNRWA schools, where they’ve been staying in recent days.
Shrapnel holes are seen on a decorated wall in the heavily damaged Sobhi Abu Karsh school in Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood on Tuesday, August 5, 2014. (photo credit: Mohammed Abed/AFP)
Imad, a friend from Gaza, told me that at least 50 people were currently living in his house in the Sheikh Radwan district of Gaza City.
“There’s nothing else to be done; everyone has to help one another. But go see what’s happening in the yard of [the] Shifa [Hospital]. You’ll see what truly wretched people look like. There’s a tent city there, a real ‘nakba’ (catastrophe) – hundreds of families that live in tents and have nowhere to go now.”
Imad, too, doesn’t know who will rehabilitate, who will rebuild.
“We understand that an international summit on the rehabilitation of Gaza will be held in Norway at the beginning of September. Maybe we’ll get some answers then,” he said, sounding anything but confident.