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.”
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.
“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.
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.