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Fearing for Their Families’ Lives, Young Gazans Are Left Hopeless. Many Are Calling on Hamas to Join the Fight

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For young Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the time spent waiting for a response from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas to Israeli airstrikes is nerve wracking.

“Do they plan on sitting quietly and not responding?” asked one member of a WhatsApp group that brings together young Palestinians from the Islamic University in Gaza City. “We need to trust al-Muqawama [the resistance in Arabic]. They know what they’re doing,” answered another.

Similar exchanges could be seen on social media, which was flooded with criticism of Hamas’ senior leadership – especially Yahya Sinwar, its leader in the Gaza Strip.

On Twitter, some said the assassination of senior Islamic Jihad commanders was a direct result of Hamas’ weak response during the previous round of fighting. Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, was not exempt from the criticism. On TikTok, young Palestinians posted voice recordings making fun of Haniyeh, saying “he has no control over Sinwar and even though he’s at the most senior level of Hamas – he’s not a symbol of resistance against Israel.”

The voices and debates of the younger generation reflect the spirit of the Palestinian street in Gaza. “There is something Israelis don’t understand,” Anas, a 27-year-old from Gaza City with a degree in English language and literature told Haaretz. “The war in Gaza does not end with ceasefires. We are struggling every day – for our existence, for who we are and to continue resisting in the shadow of life under siege.”

For Anas, Hamas and Islamic Jihad exist because of Gaza residents, whose only hope and aspiration as Palestinians is “resistance” – in other words, to continue to fight against Israel. “Gaza will not surrender,” is heard time and time again in conversations with young Palestinians in Gaza. “In a reality in which Palestinians are dispossessed from all basic things, and Israel and the world have forgotten about us – the only way to remind them we exist and make our voices heard is through resistance,” said Anas.

“Hamas is now in a trap that it has no way out of,” he said. After the assassination of three senior Islamic Jihad commanders and the death of Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan, Palestinians expected some sort of response from Hamas, as an organization that has fought for years against Israel. “At this stage they can’t sit on the fence and watch like they did last year [during Operation Breaking Dawn]. This restraint is not in their favor. They are not just politicians, they have a military wing and the Palestinian street is expecting a response. Otherwise, what do they exist for?”

Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad’s popularity among younger Palestinians is surging, especially following the harsh blows it suffered last year. It’s also in Israel’s sights, which sets it apart from Hamas.

Life under the blockade has limited Palestinians’ options, and they’ve realized Gaza’s situation is a lost cause, Anas said. “It’s a point of no return. Fifteen years under siege caused people to lose all hope for a normal life. Israel will not allow it.” Despair characterizes the voices of young Palestinians like Anas, who support firing rockets into Israel. For them, the only escape is fighting to the last drop of blood, as in any case, death is waiting for them around the corner.

We have no shelters

For the parents of small children in Gaza, things are particularly difficult. In Ahmad’s home in Khan Younis, instead of going to sleep, he and his family stay awake all night, hoping no bombs will fall near their home. “It’s impossible to know when it will happen, we expect death at any moment,” he told Haaretz. “We don’t have shelters. In previous wars, we went outside the house and waited for the night to pass. But we live in a crowded area, so even if we don’t die from bombs we’ll die from the ruins [hitting us]. Where will we go?”

Ahmad, 52, has four daughters and one son, all between the ages of four and 14. Worried about their psychological wellbeing, Ahmad says they can’t sleep at night because of the explosions. “When we hear the explosions, my little daughter cries. So she wouldn’t be afraid, I took my phone and told her to come by the window, so I could show her how I photograph the Gaza skies and that it’s not scary. I tried to explain to her that the explosions we hear aren’t close to us and that there’s no reason to be afraid. I played with the phone’s camera until she fell asleep in my arms.”

Ahmad isn’t the only one who gave up on the possibility of leaving the house and heading somewhere safe. Many residents of Khan Younis have come to accept the circle of death and understand there is no way to escape it. Ayat, 27, is the mother of a two-year-old boy and also lives in Khan Younis. The bombings, she told Haaretz, sound “like an earthquake. They’re deafening and scary, especially at night, when we can’t run away.” Even though Ayat’s house was damaged during a previous Israeli attack, she decided to stay home, though some fled to the nearby towns of Dir al-Balah and al-Qarara. But, Ayat says, “the bombings are everywhere in Gaza. There is no safe place.”

This is not the first time the parents of young children in Gaza have found themselves in the midst of war. In speaking to them, the dominant feeling seems to be one of helplessness, as they struggle to raise children born into an unavoidable siege, with military aircraft littering the skies and bombs exploding around them.

“I showered my children, put on their pajamas, read them a story, and then they fell asleep in their rooms,” said Nur, a 36-year-old teacher and mother of four from Gaza City. “The first night I didn’t tell them anything. I prayed they wouldn’t hear. I locked the doors and windows and hoped we’d elude death like the previous times.”

Gaza’s residents already know that Israel’s targeted killings of senior Islamic Jihad commanders always cause harm to uninvolved civilians, too. Explosions often happen in densely populated areas like Khan Younis, Rafah or Gaza City, and not only destroy property, homes and infrastructure – but also push two million Palestinians back into a cycle of fear and despair.

After Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr, Gazans are now in the midst of the preparing for wedding season, which young Palestinian couples look forward to. The latest round of fighting has put a stop to their wedding planning and instead reawakened trauma from previous bombing campaigns. “Our wedding was planned for next Saturday, May 13. We debated a lot whether to continue with everything as normal, but I was very worried,” said Ibrahim, a 24-year-old from Dir al-Balah and a student of Arabic language and history at the Islamic University.

Ultimately, Ibrahim decided to postpone the wedding. “Last year, Naama Mahmad Abu Qaida, 62, was killed while on her way to her youngest son’s wedding. Now, I’m afraid that will happen to one of my relatives, and I preferred to postpone,” he said.

The war casts a shadow not just on young couples who had hoped to marry, but on the daily routine of Gazans with permits to work in Israel. For them, every day of war is a harsh blow to their livelihood, especially in light of poverty levels in the Strip.

“Every war like this endangers work permits. It’s in Israel’s hands,” Salah, 29, from Beit Lahia, told Haaretz. “I have a family, and I have children. We are already very tired of this round of fighting. I don’t have strength anymore.” Hesitant to voice clear criticism of Islamic jihad and Hamas’ response, Salah does say that either way, “It won’t change anything. The blockade remains the same blockade. They won’t achieve anything.”

Article link:
Article source: Haaretz | Sheren Falah Saab |May 12, 2023

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000

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