A few days ago rumours of more Israeli air strikes began to cause panic across Gaza.
Several international friends called to ask if I’d heard about foreign embassies advising foreigners to leave Gaza immediately (which I hadn’t) and by dusk the unlit streets of Gaza city were emptying as people headed straight home to their families. A grad missile fired from Gaza had hit the Israeli city of Ashkelon and people here were scared of devastating reprisals. Civilians across Gaza blame Israel, not Hamas, for the recent carnage that killed 1,300 people here - the overwhelming majority of them civilians - but the militants who do continue to fire rockets from Gaza towards Israel are becoming widely despised for their provocations.
The Israeli military did not launch new air strikes; instead they’ve continued their psychological war against the people here in Gaza. First it was the sonic booms: low-flying aircraft travelling faster than the speed of sound deliberately creating explosions of booming sound waves that can shatter windows and make the walls of buildings vibrate. You need to keep your windows open so the glass doesn’t shatter at high speed and lacerate you. Many people no longer have windows anyway - they were broken during the Israeli military offensive and there is no new glass available in Gaza as the borders remain sealed. The Israeli military onslaught may be over, but the siege goes on.
In addition to the sonic booms, there is the perpetual buzz of drones in the sky; Gazans call the Israeli drones ‘zananas’,or mosquitoes, because of the buzzing noise they make as they circle above us. These drones are small unpiloted aircrafts that continually take aerial photographs. On a clear day you can actually catch a glimpse of them up there: tiny white planes the shape of a butterfly. Drones also contain small deadly missiles that can be launched from Tel Aviv or Jerusalem at the touch of a button, eliminating the ‘target’. They frighten people here, as they are clearly meant to.
‘They are playing with us.’ says a friend of mine, Khalid, a lawyer at a local human rights organization. ‘These strange killing birds will never leave our skies.’ Then he laughs a low-pitched, smoke-cracked laugh that registers somewhere between dark humour and complete despair.
Israel keeps reminding the people inside Gaza that it can and will retaliate against any missiles fired into its territory with ‘disproportionate’ force. These threats are part of Israel’s ongoing psychological war against Gaza: in the border areas of the north, south and eastern Gaza Strip, thousands of families are still too scared to return to their homes: or what is left of them.
Thousands of homes have been either completely destroyed or are uninhabitable because they are so badly damaged. The UN has erected refugee camps for the destitute; rows of white tents pegged out in the sun. The comparison between these camps and the refugee camps set up in the aftermath of the 1948nakbah or ‘catastrophe,’ when thousands of Palestinians were driven from their homes by Zionist militias and fled to Gaza, are heartbreakingly poignant.
There are very few missiles being fired from Gaza towards Israel at the moment – 1 or 2 a day compared to up to 20 per day in early December. The Palestinian factions are in the midst of intense negotiations that will hopefully lead to an 18-month ceasefire, and many presumably realize it is not in their own interest to goad Israel right now. One of the groups which has claimed responsibility for the recent missiles is the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade – a radical group of Fatah activists, which is not aligned to the official Fatah movement, but is directly opposed to Hamas. There are so many competing political interests both inside and outside of Gaza that peace seems like a dream. While the militant groups attempt to resolve their ongoing power struggles, Israel’s psychological war against the civilians of Gaza continues, and they see no end in sight.