When the fighting halted, the celebrations began.
Unable last week to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, the joyous Muslim feast marking the end of the Ramadan fasting month, many Gazans took to the street at 2 a.m. on Friday to extol the start of a Hamas truce with Israel that ended 11 days of hostilities.
“God is greatest and thanks to God,” they shouted in Arabic.
Cars packed Gaza’s main streets, drivers honking their horns and waving flags from the windows, in scenes reminiscent of past celebrations of truces and prisoner releases.
Hamas, the Islamist militant group that rules Gaza, cast the fighting as successful resistance of a militarily and economically stronger foe.
Mosque loudspeakers hailed what they called “the victory the resistance achieved over the occupation during the battle of the Sword of Jerusalem.” Men fired rifles into the air, and others set off noise bombs or firecrackers.
Gaza health officials said 232 Palestinians, including 65 children, were killed and more than 1,900 wounded in Israeli air strikes and artillery bombardments. Israel said it had killed at least 160 combatants.
Authorities put the death toll in Israel at 12, with hundreds of people treated for injuries in rocket attacks that caused panic and sent people rushing into shelters.
In Tel Al-Hawa in Gaza City people said they were celebrating their safety, and what they viewed as their victory. Some hugged, one calling it a “time out from the coronavirus.”
“With souls and blood, we redeem you, Deif,” they chanted, calling out the name of Hamas’s top military commander Deif, who tops Israel’s wanted list.
“This is a great victory over the occupation. Our resistance men forced them to the ceasefire,” said Ahmed Amer, 30, as he celebrated with his friends.
“Today is when Eid al-Fitr begins. Yes, we are sorry and sad for our people who lost their houses and their relatives, but despite that, we will celebrate,” Amer said.
Another man clutching an AK-47 assault rifle said: “Our fingers are on the triggers, and we are ready to fight again, but now we will celebrate with our people,” he said, refusing to give a name.
In the Israeli-occupied city of Ramallah, hundreds of people took to the streets chanting: “With souls and blood we redeem you, Gaza.”
Fireworks were set off in Sheikh Jarrah, the East Jerusalem neighbourhood where a long-running legal battle by Palestinian families to stop their forced eviction by Israeli settlers was a key factor in mobilising protesters across the Old City and farther afield during Ramadan.
In a televised address on Thursday, Biden welcomed the ceasefire as “a genuine opportunity to make progress” towards lasting peace in the Middle East, and hailed Egypt’s role in brokering the agreement.
He extended condolences to bereaved Israelis and Palestinians and said Washington would work with the United Nations “and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance” for Gaza and its reconstruction.
Biden said aid would be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority – run by Hamas’s rival, President Mahmoud Abbas, and based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank – “in a manner that does not permit Hamas to simply restock its military arsenal”.
Biden also said the US was committed to helping Israel replenish its supply of interceptor missiles for its Iron Dome protection system and to working with the Palestinian Authority – not Hamas — to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza.
The US State Department said that Secretary of State Antony Blinken planned to travel to the Middle East “in the coming days”, where he would meet with Israeli, Palestinian, and regional leaders to discuss recovery efforts.
Blinken spoke with his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, who “welcomed Secretary Blinken’s planned travel to the region”, State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
The announcement came after Blinken spoke twice Thursday with Ashkenazi ahead of implementation of the ceasefire, which was brokered by Egypt and followed mounting international pressure to stem the bloodshed.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric confirmed earlier in the day that UN Middle East Envoy Tor Wennesland was in Qatar. US President Joe Biden also discussed Gaza with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki saying Washington’s “strategic approach” remained “to communicate directly, stay closely interlocked with the Israelis, with partners on the ground, to do everything we can to bring an end to the conflict”. She added that the US had held “more than 80 engagements with senior leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and across the region”.
Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, speaking earlier near Tel Aviv, expressed Germany’s “solidarity” with Israel but also called for an end to the fighting. “Israel has the right to defend itself against this massive and unacceptable attack,” Maas said. “The number of victims is rising every day and this greatly concerns us.”
In a surprise turn of events a recent headline in the Boston Globe, a leading US paper, read “US aid to Israel should be a force for peace,” which came as a shock to many readers.
The paper, in its May 19 edition, published it as part of a hard-hitting column by its editorial board, adding: “Ultimately, conditioning aid to Israel should not be controversial.”
Trudy Rubin, a leading columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, meanwhile, put Hamas and the Israeli Premier Benjamin Netanyahu on the same level, saying: “By treating Palestinians as irrelevant, Bibi provoked violence that has killed hundreds of mostly Palestinian civilians and threatened Israeli towns and cities.”
Major TV stations, especially MSNBC and CNN, have had anchors challenge more Israeli guests than ever before. Pro-Palestinian demonstrations in major US cities, meanwhile, have seen huge turnouts.
Sarah Nahar, an African-American activist, told Arab News that since 2015, Black internationalism had seen a resurgence unseen since the late 1960s.
“Since the events in Ferguson (Missouri), there have been many black-led organizations who have traveled to Palestine and have learned firsthand what the situation is like, and have since networked Palestine with the African American community,” she said.
Nahar pointed to the recent book “Except Palestine” by Marc Lemont Hill as shaking American progressives who previously supported all global liberation issues — except Palestine.
Now though, attitudes are changing. US Senator Bernie Sanders has written in support of Palestinian rights in the New York Times, and a group of Congressmen and women, led by New York progressive Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Palestinian-American Democrat Rashida Tlaib and others, have not been shy in their clear support of Palestinians.
Donald Trump’s era created a split within US political forces in regards to Palestine.
Khaled Elgindy, senior fellow and director of the Palestine Program at the Middle East Institute, agrees that there is a shift happening in US public opinion on Palestine, which has filtered into politics as well.
“We see that in the current split inside the Democratic Party; there are progressives who are willing to be more vocal about Palestinian rights and Israeli abuses, and there is (the) more traditional pro-Israel party establishment,” he said, adding: “(President Joe) Biden appears to be on the most conservative end of the latter.”
Elgindy warned, though, that the “shift hasn’t really translated into any real shift in policy. That said, there is now, for the first time in many years, the beginning of a debate on things that were once beyond the pale, like the idea of conditioning aid to Israel.”
Dan Kurtzer, a former US ambassador to Syria, Israel and Egypt, told Arab News that the situation has changed from 2014.
“That conflict was strictly between Israel and Hamas, and occurred as a result of differences of view related to Israel’s blockade and Hamas’ responsibility for maintaining a cease-fire. This time, the conflict is over Jerusalem — Sheikh Jarrah, the ‘status quo,’ and the sanctity of the Haram Al-Sharif. Thus, getting to a cease-fire is only a first step to dealing with those Jerusalem issues,” Kurtzer said.
The change in demographics in the US appears to have made a difference.
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, told Arab News that the changes in the US have been developing over the last three decades, and are a function of demographics.
“On the Democratic side, we have blacks, Latinos, Asians, young people, and educated women. On the Republican side, it’s white, middle class, high school educated, ‘born again’ Christians. On many issues, foreign and domestic, these two groupings hold views that are mirror reflections of each other. That gap is growing and will continue to grow.”
Some argue, though, that technology has played a greater part.
Jamal Dajani, former head of communications at the Palestinian prime minister’s office, told Arab News that technology made it easier for Palestinians to share images of their suffering in real time, using mobile cameras and social media platforms.
He said: “This comes at a time when most people across the globe, not just in the US, do not rely on corporate or mainstream media outlets for their news anymore; therefore, Israel is no longer able to control the narrative like it used to. The timing of the release of the Human Rights Watch report on April 27 exposing Israel’s apartheid practices has helped shift the sentiment.”
Fadi Elsalameen, formerly a non-resident fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, told Arab News that this was the first time that the pro-Palestinian and anti-Netanyahu camps had merged and agreed on a need for change in the Palestinian-Israeli dynamic.
“The question remains: What happens next, and can this merge lead to actual political change on the ground,” he said.
Source: Swiss Info, France 24, Arab News