Wed, October 20, 2021

international

Many Israelis who live near Gaza oppose cease-fire


ASHDOD, Israel - In the nearly two-week battle between Israel and Hamas, Linoi Hazam says, she ran for shelter from rocket fire more times than she can count.

Hazam, a 22-year-old security guard in this city 20 miles from Gaza, was driving on the highway one day during the conflict when shrapnel from an intercepted rocket fell onto the road a few miles ahead. She leaped out of her car and lay facedown on the asphalt, hands over her head.

The Egyptian-brokered cease-fire that took effect 2 a.m. Friday halted the exchanges of fire between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules Gaza. The beaches, bars and cafes are filled again, schools and offices have reopened, and life has snapped back to routine. But Hazam worries that Israel's readiness to agree to a cease-fire last week communicated weakness to Hamas, whose leaders have already threatened to open the next round of fighting.

"There shouldn't be a cease-fire," Hazam said. "Hamas did get hit hard, but not hard enough."

For many Israelis in the south, the halt to hostilities has left a nagging feeling that the 11-day operation - which left at least 248 Gazans dead, including 66 children, and 12 Israelis dead, including a teenage girl and a 5-year-old boy - was ultimately pointless.

Seventy-two percent of Israelis said they did not agree with the cease-fire reached between Israel and Hamas, according to a poll published last week by Channel 12.

The "unconditional" cease-fire did not address Israel's initial demands, which included the return of the remains of two civilians and two soldiers that are believed to be held by Hamas, or the broader goal of stopping Hamas from raining rockets down on Israeli citizens. It did not address the border blockade enforced by Israel and Egypt that limits the movement of the 2 million people who live in Gaza.

Over the weekend, as Gazans sifted through the rubble of obliterated buildings and began counting their dead, Israelis voiced their disillusionment with the way the operation was ended.

"The country has abandoned us, unequivocally," said Yulie Lavie, 34, who lives in Ashdod and serves in the Israeli army. "We got the cease-fire, but what about after that? It's clear to all of us that it's only a matter of time until the next round."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday that Israel had struck "a severe blow to terrorist organizations . . . while establishing deterrence."

"Not everything is known to the public yet, and, by the way, not everything is known to Hamas, but our set of achievements will be revealed over time," he said in a televised statement.

Israeli military spokesman Hidai Zilberman has said that at least 100 high-ranking military leaders from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, a smaller militant group in the Gaza Strip, were assassinated during the conflict. He said Israeli airstrikes inflicted "significant" damage on the underground tunnel network known as the metro, where Hamas is believed to produce and store its stockpiles of weapons.

"The military phase is over," Defense Minister Benny Gantz said. "Now is the time for political resolution." He said he was talking with leaders from "moderate Arab countries" to pursue that goal.

President Joe Biden said last week that the conflict showed "we still need a two-state solution," in which an independent Palestinian state would be established alongside Israel.

Lior Damari, a 25-year-old computer and electrical engineering student in Ashdod, said a two-state solution was impossible.

"The truth is that no diplomatic solution would be enough for them," he said. "It's not that we're against the idea of two states for two people - no, we'd prefer it. But there's no one to talk to, there's no one to take responsibility when, in the midst of negotiations, some young Palestinian tries to blow it all up."

Amoyel Mair, 75, drinking coffee with friends on a bustling main street two blocks from the beach, said Israel's problem with the Palestinians in Gaza was rooted in its conflict with Iran. He said Iranian funding and support enabled Hamas's new tactic: heavy rocket barrages launched toward multiple locations almost simultaneously in an attempt to overwhelm Israel's Iron Dome antimissile defense system.

"Once the Iran problem is fixed, the Hamas problem, the Hezbollah problem, all of these local problems will be much easier to control," he said. Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed group in Lebanon, sat out this month's conflict. It's believed to have a far larger stockpile of missiles compared with Hamas, and has, since the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, regularly exchanged war threats with Israel.

As Israel tends conflict on multiple fronts with no end in sight, many here expect the country will continue to "mow the grass" - in this case, striking Hamas's rocket production and storage facilities - periodically and indefinitely. As a result, they say, wars will continue to break out every few years.

"In a few years, maybe less, this whole scene will be back again," said Hazam, the 22-year-old Ashdod resident. "For us, now, we're going back to life, but we're also waiting for the next war."

Published : May 23, 2021

By : The Washington Post · Shira Rubin