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November 22, 2012

Gaza Residents Relieved on Day One of Cease-Fire

by Scott Bobb

Residents of the Gaza Strip enjoyed their first peaceful night in a week after Israel and Palestinian militants agreed to a cease-fire.

Cars were on the once-deserted streets. Mechanic Abdelkarim Adibediah opened his motor repair shop in the Beach refugee camp for the first time in eight days. He looked up from a motorcycle he was repairing to say he was relieved over the deal.

​​"The cease-fire was in our interest," he said. "We have to get out and work to feed our children. But, it will take a long time for us to recover."

More than 150 Palestinians and five Israelis died in the eight-day conflict. Hundreds more were wounded.

The conflict choked daily life on both sides as schools, offices and shops were closed and people were told to stay indoors for their safety.
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At the small fishing port a few kilometers away, Mifleh Abu Riallah, 34, was unloading a catch of small, sardine-sized fish. He was able to put out to sea for the first time, though the catch was small. He said the Israeli navy still does not allow Gaza's fishermen to go beyond 2.5 nautical miles, or six kilometers, out to sea.

He said 2.5 miles is for swimming, not for fishing. "This close to shore you can't catch big fish," Riallah added. He hopes the fishing range will be extended to 20 kilometers as it used to be under the ceasefire accord.

Israel imposed a blockade on Gaza after Hamas seized power five years ago. The blockade crippled Gaza's economy and decimated its fishing industry. Two-thirds of the fishermen have quit.


Under the ceasefire agreement, Israel and Hamas are to negotiate an end to the blockade. Gazans hope this will end all fishing restrictions and reopen closed land border crossings.

The blockade has also hurt agriculture. Gaza's farmers are prevented from working land within two kilometers of the border. This has effectively closed more than one-fourth of the territory's arable land to farming.

Vegetable vendor Mahmoud al-Komi imports all his produce from Israel. If the blockade is lifted he would be able to bring produce from Egypt.

He said it would make things cheaper. "Right now not everybody can afford these goods. If the blockade is lifted everybody will be able to buy these things," al-Komi noted.

​​Israel says the blockade is meant to protect Israelis near the border from attacks and prevent arms smuggling. Palestinians say it is meant to punish Hamas, which does not recognize Israel and has called for its destruction.

Waleed Shabeir, a professor of sociology at the Islamic University of Gaza, said it will take a long time for the people of Gaza to recover not just economically, but psychologically as well.

They have to see a change out of the destruction and the killing. They have to see rebuilding because everything is changed from what it was during the conflict.

Most Gazans want a return to normalcy, meaning a normal life like other people's. That will require further, perhaps more difficult steps by Israel and Hamas to end Gaza's economic and political isolation.