Tareq S. Hajjaj
Mondoweiss / February 3, 2023
While the people of Gaza cheer for resistance in the West Bank and call for armed factions in Gaza to support it, they also fear that escalations with Israel will lead to another war on Gaza.
Maisara Abu Sharkh, 28, tries his best to comfort his 4-year-old son whenever Israeli warplanes break the sound barrier above Gaza. For the last couple of weeks, that has been the only sound they’ve been able to hear in the sky.
Following the Israeli army’s escalation of its assault on Palestinian armed resistance groups in the West Bank — which recently culminated in a massive onslaught on the Jenin refugee camp that left 10 Palestinians dead — the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in Gaza responded by firing two rockets at Israel overnight on Friday. Heavy Israeli airstrikes hit Gaza in different locations throughout the night, leaving the people of Gaza to wake up with war on their minds.
Expectations of another war breaking out have been spreading across Gaza ever since.
Maisara’s son hurries to his father’s bed whenever he hears the warplanes pierce the sky. He tries to hide his head under the bedspread as he whimpers, “war! war!”
Maisara takes him patiently in his arms, trying to tell him a lie about the sound. This doesn’t fool the child, who points at the sky behind the window and says, “warplane.”
Maisara explains to me his son’s exaggerated trepidation. During the last war, they were living right next to the massacres that Israeli warplanes committed against the people of Jabaliya refugee camp that left dozens of people dead. His own family had survived the immediate carnage but not its consequences.
Maisara’s family is one of many in the Gaza Strip that has gone through the same experience. Israel has launched four devastating wars on Gaza since 2008. Two of them were led by the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. The last war in August 2022, “Operation Breaking Dawn,” left over 50 Palestinians dead.
In that war, Israel had initiated hostilities in a “preemptive” strike at the PIJ leadership in Gaza, which it accused of fomenting armed resistance cells in the West Bank. What was unique about that onslaught was that for the first time in the history of Gaza’s wars, the battle over the future of the West Bank was being fought in Gaza.
This is how this recent volley of rockets should be viewed — as Gaza’s way of defending the West Bank resistance.
This has also led to the evolution of a new dynamic between the West Bank and Gaza — namely, when Israel’s crackdown on the Palestinian resistance in the West Bank escalates, the Palestinian resistance leadership in Gaza feels the need to mount a response. This is how this recent volley of rockets should be viewed — as Gaza’s way of defending the West Bank resistance.
Political analyst Nasser Eliwa believes that Gaza’s fate is being decided in the West Bank now.
“The resistance in the West Bank is connected to Gaza,” he said. “Gaza is the center of the West Bank resistance.”
By this, Eliwa implies that the official leadership of the resistance factions fighting on the ground in the West Bank are based in Gaza, especially the PIJ.
Waiting for the next war
The people of Gaza have been following the events in the West Bank closer than ever before, and they were moved by the Neve Yaacov shooting operation, which they saw as retribution for the massacre in Jenin two days earlier.
Their celebrations at the operation, however, were also accompanied by an underlying fear — that these events would lead to yet another war.
“It’s terrible when we see our own people suffer and face the occupation on their own as we watch from a distance,” Maisara says. “We want to join our people in the West Bank in their battles, and Israel wants the people of Gaza to remain estranged from the people of the West Bank.”
“This is a Zionist project,” he clarifies. “But they will never see it fulfilled.”
Maisara believes that the power lies in the hands of the general populace and that it is the people who put pressure on the resistance when they feel that Gaza must respond. He believes that the resistance factions are simply responding to the people’s demands.
Eliwa does not share this view.
“Gaza does not choose wars, it’s always dragged into them,” he tells Mondoweiss. “People have no power to decide war or peace.”
Maisara, on the other hand, predicts that people beyond just the armed factions will participate in the next war if Israel initiates it. “The previous wars were between Israel and the armed factions in Gaza, but the next one will not be the same, it will be a people’s war against the occupation,” he said.
The West Bank events directly impact Gaza, and vice versa. Due to the ongoing Israeli violence, these events are not likely to de-escalate any time soon. But people in Gaza who expect the war, hope deep down to avoid it.
“We do not like war. It’s devastating, and it harms our hearts and souls. We lose everything beautiful in Gaza to war, and we lose our families and homes,” he said.
‘I hope the war doesn’t start at night’
The family of Munther Hasan, 53, lives east of the al-Shuja’iyya neighborhood in the Gaza Strip, one kilometer from Israel’s borders. During previous wars, he and his family of nine moved out of their home temporarily to the home of their relatives.
“We pray that we won’t have to go through another war all over again,” he said. Usually when war is on the horizon, Munther chooses to leave with his family before it starts. That is why much of his fear revolves around when and how it might start. If the war were to start while they are still at home, it would be hard to leave. When Gaza is at war, everything moving in the Shuja’iyya area is considered a legitimate target for the Israeli drones that constantly fly over the area.
“Whenever we have to evacuate, we suffer,” he said. “I keep thinking, will we come back and find our home intact, or will it be leveled?”
When Mondoweiss asked him about the place of the West Bank in Gaza’s fate, he said that whatever happens in the West Bank will impact Gaza directly and that resistance in Gaza always responds to Israeli crimes.
“We are one nation, and we have no one else to support us except ourselves,” he said.
Still, this reality entails that war continues to loom on the horizon. While Munther’s family hopes that war won’t break out, if it does happen, they at least hope that it doesn’t happen at night. They want to have time to evacuate.
“Whenever Israel bombs a site in Gaza, we start to think, ‘there’s another war.’ It’s how every war started before, after all,” he said. “It begins with bombing a few sites here and there, and then they bomb everything.”
But Munther also knows that so long as there is resistance, these wars will continue. “As long as we are under occupation, then we expect a war every day,” he says. “We will get rid of our fear of war when the occupation ends once and for all.”
Tareq S. Hajjaj is the Mondoweiss Gaza Correspondent, and a member of Palestinian Writers Union