Recently a tenuous cease-fire took hold between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. The cessation of hostilities is the
first break from violence for Gazans since Hamas Islamic militants took over the coastal strip a year ago, ousting the rival Fatah organization in a violent takeover. VOA's Jim Teeple visited Gaza. He found that people there hope the cease-fire allows normal life to resume after a year of hardship and isolation.
Everyone agrees the Palmera restaurant in Gaza City serves the best shwarma and kebab in the Gaza Strip.
But manager Mazen Abdu says the past year has been the most difficult in the restaurant's history. "We have problems with Gaza's borders being closed,” Abdu said. “I can't get cooking gas, and customers don't have money to come anymore. Palestinians who used to come here from overseas can't get into Gaza anymore and can't eat here."
One year ago, in a violent takeover, Hamas militants ousted the Fatah forces that controlled Gaza. The takeover ended a short-lived Palestinian unity government between Hamas and moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah. And it led to an international and Israeli blockade of Gaza and the area's economic collapse.
One year on, Hamas officials like Fawzi Barhoum defend the takeover.
"Before we took control of Gaza there was a complete absence of law,” Barhoum said. “And complete life threatening here inside Gaza for the journalists, for the foreigners and for the international foundations. Fifteen times there were kidnappings of foreigners inside Gaza. But now one year after Hamas took control of Gaza... till now there is a complete absence of threats against foreigners."
Jabr Wishah is with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. He agrees that there is law and order now in Gaza. But he says there is no political activity that is not approved by Hamas.
Wishah says the blockade that was supposed to weaken Hamas has backfired.
"The injust illegal blockade, sanctions, siege that were imposed on the whole community in the Gaza Strip was a fatal mistake because Hamas proved it did not run short of money, it did not run short of weapons, it did not run short of followers or potential suicide bombers," Wishah said.
The embargo has led to long gas lines in Gaza. But Israel says it can't be expected to help a group, like Hamas, that has sworn to destroy the Jewish state.
The blockade cut Gaza off from the rest of the world. It left the Strip's one-and-a- half million people trapped. In January, Hamas militants knocked down the border wall between Gaza and Egypt. Hundreds of thousands of Gazans surged into Egypt to shop, see relatives or simply escape Gaza for a few hours.
Fida Abed has a Fulbright Scholarship to study computer science at Columbia University in New York. Israel says for now he cannot leave Gaza. He says living in Gaza has been like being on another planet. "We divide the world into two parts, Gaza and the rest of the world,” Fida said. “Since we have no relations with the rest of the world because either border is closed. That is why we are hoping to go to the other world, to exchange our culture with the other world."
Few Gazans expect the ceasefire to lead to real peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Fida and his friends say they hope the cease-fire lasts longer than previous ones, so they can recover from a lost year.