Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Gaza May 29, 2018.
(photo credit: SUHAIB SALEM / REUTERS)
Bahjat al-Helou, a resident of Gaza City, describes a sense of cautious relief over Wednesday’s cease-fire between Gaza and Israel, a feeling familiar to residents on both sides of the border, in a telephone conversation with The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
Helou is the training coordinator at the Gaza office of the Independent Commission for Human Rights and he lives in Gaza City.
“The Palestinians are living in panic,” he told the Post
. “The artillery shelling and the military escalation that occurred brought back the trauma of the Gazans that they have been suffering from the last few wars – especially children.”
His 12-year-old daughter, he says, was too frightened to sleep in her own bed on Tuesday night. “She came to her mum and dad’s bed because she was very afraid,” Helou said.
According to Helou, Gaza residents had feared that the escalation, the sounds of explosions, artillery bombardments and drones, signaled the outbreak of a new war.
This, he pointed out, only aggravated the problems many Gazans already face on a daily basis: poverty, unemployment and the blockade, as well as the many people wounded in the recent protests along the border unable to receive proper medical attention from Gazan hospitals and unable to leave the enclave to get it elsewhere.
“When the escalation happened it put people in a very bad situation,” Helou said.
There was less movement in the streets of Gaza, he said, during the hours of the escalation, though people still went to work. But on Wednesday, he said, employees at his offices left work early, exhausted from a sleepless night on Tuesday night when the violence on both sides of the border was at a peak, hours before the cease-fire began.
“Israel is used to bombarding empty security places,” Helou said. “People were afraid that this time Israel would shell places where civilians live or security or civil facilities affiliated with Hamas and thankfully that didn’t happen and we appreciate that the mediation from the Egyptian side was very helpful.”
“We, all the people, seek a truce. It’s only the affiliates of the Hamas and Jihad movement who encourage escalation just to export their internal challenges and inability to provide citizens with their basic needs, and I think Israel is a place they can make their battle with... And Israel itself always provided this opportunity to the Jihad movement and Hamas by the bombardments, the escalation, the raids and the tough siege. This must be ended,” he said.
While the Palestinian leaders feel triumphant over the way this last short conflict with Israel played out, the “people are very cautious and think that war might come back,” he said.
“People were very, very happy about the cease-fire because the structure of society is very fragile. We want a long-term truce. We feel that even the extreme factions are not going to make war – they are not ready – but they use it for political motives,” he added. “The mood of the society is not ready for a war and as a human-rights defender I can assure you people do not seek war.”
“I think it’s time for Israel to decrease the amount of punishment and sanctions against Gaza, for humanitarian reasons and not for political reasons,” Helou asserted. He listed an increase in electricity, medication, and permits for medical treatment and for students who want to attend universities elsewhere as “basic things that people seek.”
“But we do not seek war with Israel, we want a long truce. People want to live a normal life.”
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