Palestinians look at Israeli soldiers standing guard near the fence between Israel and southern Gaza Strip November 23, 2012. Reuters/ Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
Gaza City—Gaza erupted in celebration Wednesday night, as thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in the wake of a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
Minutes after the agreement was implemented at 9 pm, the crackle of gunfire, ululations and cries of Allah Akbar began to ring out from the city’s mosques, drowning out the hum of drones still circling overhead. Dark, deserted and under bombardment for the past eight days, Gaza’s streets sprang back to life, with cars whizzing by honking their horns, fireworks exploding in the sky and thousands of residents pouring into the streets waving flags, and chanting victory over Israel.
“There is an unprecedented mood among the people,” says Raji Sourani, the director of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza. “We lost a lot, we are bleeding, but there is this feeling that we made it, that this was a victory.”
The final twenty-four hours were particularly brutal. Israel unleashed an escalated assault on the strip, continuing the attacks even as the cease-fire was being announced in Cairo by Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr, alongside US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At least one Palestinian was killed in the final minutes before the 9 pm deadline—a macabre countdown before the assault finally ended.
Gaza had endured eight days of bombardment by air, land and sea. Israel deployed F-16s, attack helicopters and warships to fire on the densely populated territory of more than 1.7 million people. Over 160 Palestinians were killed, eighty-nine of them civilians. Among them were thirty-one children, according to PHCR. Five Israelis were killed in Palestinian rocket attacks.
“It was a horrible nightmare,” says Dr. Mona El-Farra, director of Gaza Projects for the Middle East Children’s Alliance. “Everywhere we were surrounded with death and horror.”
More than 10,000 Gazans have been displaced, according to the United Nations. Thousands took refuge in 13 UN-run schools, many of them fleeing northern Gaza on Tuesday night after Israeli warplanes dropped swarms of leaflets on the area ordering residents to evacuate their houses or face an impending attack.
The destruction of Gaza is severe. Dozens of houses, apartments blocks and offices have been reduced to rubble. The Israeli military targeted numerous civil institutions, including a main bridge on the coastal road connecting Gaza City with the rest of the enclave, as well as several police stations, farms, the Islamic National Bank and a sprawling government compound housing ministries that once issued identification cards, passports and other official papers.