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An elephant in the garden

I got back to Gaza a couple of days ago. One afternoon I was standing in a central London supermarket, trying to decide what brand of chocolate to buy for my Palestinian friends – and the next morning I found myself standing outside Erez Crossing, the border crossing into the Gaza Strip, feeling very hot and slightly dazed. My brain does not travel at the speed of an airplane. Anyway, I had no problems at Erez, and less than an hour later I was at home in Gaza city, unpacking my suitcase.  

I’m glad to be back: for one thing the weather here is much better than in England, where it rained almost every day of my trip. But I’m also glad I had a break from beautiful, unpredictable, chaotic Gaza: it’s been a very difficult couple of weeks here. On 24 July, just a couple of hours after I left for my holiday, there was a huge explosion at a restaurant on the Gaza city beachfront. Five members of Hamas were killed instantly, and so was a six-year-old girl standing nearby. Another 20 people were injured – but the aftermath of the explosion is still being felt across the whole Strip.

Hamas, who have ruled Gaza since they took over the Strip in June 2007, immediately blamed their political opponents, Fatah, for the explosion, though Fatah denied responsibility, and there was no evidence to implicate them. Nevertheless, over these last couple of weeks Hamas police have rounded up hundreds of Fatah members and supporters, and detained dozens of them. Lawyers have been denied access to detention centres, and many of the detainees who’ve now been released say they were badly beaten, or tortured, by Hamas, and have the injuries to prove it.   

Also, more than 200 local Gazan organizations, including charities working with children and families, have been shut down by Hamas because they have some kind of link, however tenuous, to Fatah. ‘Hamas claim they had to respond to the situation in order to prevent local people taking matters into their own hands,’ says one of my colleagues. ‘But it has been like watching an elephant trampling the garden.’

My friends tell me this has been an ugly episode. There is an underlying tinge of fear across Gaza – and we still don’t know who detonated that bomb. 

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