But it’s not over. The Israeli drones buzz incessantly overhead. And the events of the past 11 days are only now beginning to sink in. The raw emotions of fear and terror, of loss and anger, will linger on.
In Al-Wahdah street, Israeli air strikes caused three buildings to collapse in the middle of the night last Sunday — killing more than 40 people. Five days later, an endless stream of residents walk by and gawk at the mounds of jagged concrete and twisted metal. Atop one of those mounds lies a bright red teddy bear, its head separated from its body.
Sixty-seven-year-old Mahmoud Abu Al-Aouf lives a few blocks away, but one of the buildings was home to members of his extended family, most of them now dead.
He ticks off the relatives who died. “My cousin, my sister, her son, his children, my niece and her children,” he says. Among the dead was Dr. Ayman Abu Al-Aouf, head of internal medicine at Gaza City’s Al-Shifa Hospital. He was responsible for the hospital’s Covid-19 ward.
“He had just returned from work,” recalls Mahmoud. “And then he was killed.”
Another member of the family, Ala Abu Al-Aouf, was in his nearby shop when the Israeli bombs struck.
“I ran out and saw dust and rubble and heard screams and shouts,” he says.
Eventually rescue workers pulled the bodies of his two daughters, 21-year-old Shaima and 19-year-old Ruwan, out of the ruins.
Ala, 48 years old, says the Israeli military gave no warning. “Our souls to them [the Israelis] are cheaper than a phone call. They could have called and said ‘Evacuate the building!’ You want to hit tunnels? Hit them!” he says. “But you have to warn us. We’re civilians. We have nothing to do with that.”
Israel says it was targeting tunnels in the neighborhood. When one of them collapsed, so did nearby buildings. The Israeli military said earlier this week that an investigation was underway into the ordnance used.
Clutching her baby son Kareem, a teacher who declined to give her name, came to survey what was once Ala’s home.
Her home down the street shook as if an earthquake had struck, she remembers. “I grabbed my children and held them tight,” she says. “I thought that’s it. I’m going to die. It felt like Judgement Day had come.”
One of her students was among those killed in the airstrike that night.
Next to the ruins on Al-Wahdah street, members of Hamas’ military wing, clad in black combat fatigues and balaclavas, march past.
Despite the death, despite the destruction, Hamas is framing the war as a victory.
On the evening of May 10, it launched its first barrage of missiles at Israel, demanding Israel’s security forces leave the Haram Al-Sharif, the Temple Mount, home of Islam’s third-holiest site, the Al Aqsa Mosque. It dubbed its campaign “the Sword of Jerusalem,” posing as the defender of Jerusalem’s holiest Muslim site against Israel, which for its part called its air and artillery campaign the “Guardian of the Walls,” referring to the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City.
Not since the outbreak of the Second Intifada two decades ago has the symbolism of Jerusalem been in such sharp focus.
This fourth war between the state of Israel and Hamas has ended inconclusively. Both sides are claiming victory. As they always do. Israel claims to have crippled Hamas’ ability to launch rocket attacks.
Hamas claims that for 11 days it paralysed large parts of Israel with those rockets. It shut down Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport and opened up yawning cracks in the already brittle communal relations within Israel between its Jewish and Arab citizens, some of whom identify strongly as Palestinian, as well as sparking a wave of mass protests and confrontations in the West Bank between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
The Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah, led by 85-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas, seemed like a helpless bystander, launching empty rhetoric at Israel while Hamas launched rockets.
The ceasefire in Gaza is just that: a cessation of fire. It’s not a guarantee of lasting calm, or anything approaching the semblance of peace.
The root causes of this century-old conflict for the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea haven’t gone away.
Going back more than a decade, the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem, where Palestinian families face eviction, has been a regular flashpoint.
In Jerusalem, Palestinian residents, nearly 40% of the population, pay taxes and carry Israeli identification cards, but the vast majority are not Israeli citizens. Among other things, they can’t vote in national elections and receive just a fraction of municipal funds compared to Jewish residents.
The fourth Gaza-Israel conflict is over. The definition of insanity, they say, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Four times now, Israel and the factions in Gaza have engaged in these deadly exchanges. And given that all else remains the same, a fifth round, and a sixth and maybe more, cannot be ruled out. In fact, most people in Gaza expect another war. And as in 2014, and this time, each side will almost certainly declare victory. It fits the definition of insanity all too perfectly.
It’s over. The bombs and rockets no longer fall; on Friday night families in Gaza City ventured out to stroll around the main square, or sit on the benches.