GAZA CITY — On Tuesday, there was a glimmer of hope when Israel accepted the terms of an Egypt-proposed cease-fire with Hamas. But the Islamist militant group, claiming that it had never been consulted, called the cease-fire a “joke” and turned it down.
Many Palestinians here say they bear the brunt of the fighting and are hoping for a cease-fire, even if it doesn’t solve the everyday problems plaguing Gaza, like high unemployment and stark poverty. And yet others say they support the continued war with Israel, a country they deem an occupier and an enemy.
Since the surge in violence between Israel and Hamas began early last week, more than 190 Palestinians — the majority of them civilians — have been killed. The first Israeli died in the cross-border violence Tuesday after getting hit by shrapnel.
With Hamas calling the shots in Gaza, here’s what some Palestinian civilians say they want, and how they really feel about Israel and the militant group.
Abu Awad, 70, who was displaced in 1948
Abu Awad was 4 years old when he was displaced from his home in what is now Jaffa, Israel. He says he’ll never forget returning to the house decades later, knocking on the door to find an Israeli man there. Awad showed the man the room in which he was born and the two men cried together, he says.
Awad is now determined to fight for his land, he says as he sits on a street corner in Gaza City’s al-Shati refugee camp.
“Hamas is defending itself against the occupation, so you can’t call them terrorists,” he says. “I’m not pushing for a cease-fire. The solution is the siege should be lifted, the borders opened, and the prisoners freed.”
A 22-year-old Palestinian Christian man
Several months ago, a 22-year-old Christian man who requested anonymity to speak freely about Hamas, graduated from college with a concentration in English. But like many young Palestinians here, he says can’t find work and is fed up with the cycle of violence.
“Hamas doesn’t want to stop the war,” he says, sitting in his living room. “But the missiles are useless. They only do small damage. You don’t fight back by poking them. To solve Gaza’s problems, it’s not about rockets. As long as we are deprived of basic needs, we will not be able to act according to international law that protects Israel, but not us.”
Across the room from where he sits hangs a tapestry of Saint George, the patron saint of soldiers, slaying a dragon. He’s revered here as a Palestinian symbol of steadfastness.
“I don’t like the ideology of Hamas,” he continues. “They’re brainwashed. Hamas undermines the value of Palestinian life. I’m not against resistance [to Israel]. But I want intellectual leaders — not military leaders.”
Umm Mohamed Sultan, a mother of four who fled northern Gaza
Umm Mohamed Sultan left her home on Sunday night in Beit Lahia, a city in northern Gaza, after Israel dropped pamphlets warning residents to evacuate or risk dying from airstrikes. The Israeli military said it was targeting Hamas, which regularly fires rockets at Israel from the north.
“I want Hamas to fire rockets,” she says, sitting with her family at a U.N. school in Gaza City. “But it also threatens our safety and it doesn’t do much damage. Is it worth it? No one can live like this.”
“My son was so scared,” she adds as she holds the 2-year-old, still in shock from the middle-of-the-night escape. “He covers his ears and yells whenever there are bombings. My daughter shakes. I hear rockets being shot off near my house and Israel responds to the whole area.”
Anwar Qasqeen, a middle-aged fisherman
Anwar Qasqeen, who has been a fisherman in Gaza City for more than 30 years, says that his job was difficult even before the most recent round of fighting began last week. In 2007, Israel imposed a sea, land and air blockade in response to Hamas attacks. When he went out too far in his boat two years ago, Israeli ships hit his boat with a water cannon, he says.
Now, with the recent surge in conflict, he and other fisherman can’t take out their boats at all. They can only wade into shallow water. He wants the fighting to stop, but he notes that a cease-fire would not end his everyday problems.
“We can barely find fish to support our family,” he says. “We can’t sell them. We hope that the war will stop and we’ll get to a cease-fire.”
In the distance, waves crash on the shore and fishermen throw their nets into the sea. Qasqeen is a vehement supporter of resistance against Israel, which he considers an occupier of Gaza, but he says he’s unsure whether the resistance effort — by Hamas, specifically — is making a difference.
“Nonviolent resistance has proved ineffective. So has violent resistance,” he says, as several barefoot, sea-splashed children listen on. “Israel has settlers and extremists and we have Hamas. They have been too extreme and Hamas has been too extreme. We both suffer.”
Mohamad, 26, a survivor of an Israeli airstrike
An Israeli missile hit Mohamed’s home on Sunday night, completely destroying it. He says that some people in his family are members of Hamas, but that most of the people who lived in his home are not part of the group. He requested anonymity to speak freely.
“I want it to end,” he says, standing mere feet away from the blast site where his home used to stand. “It’s a war against all of us — not just Hamas. I want a truce. It was shitty before, but shitty without war is better than shitty and dying.”
Now 26, Mohamed graduated from university several years ago and hasn’t been able to find a job. The living conditions are unbearable in Gaza, he says.
“Unemployment is high. Power is out every day. The borders are closed, we have no right to travel. We’re held against our will. No way to potentially get what we need.”
Abeer Ayyoub and Ahmed Rezeq contributed reporting from Gaza City.