Rushdi Baker, 56, tied his boat to a pillar on the seaport edge in Gaza and turned his rolled-up fishing net from one side to the other. “That is Bibi, [Netanyahu]” he said, before turning the net over to the other side. “And that is [Benny] Gantz. Both are well-woven, for one duty.”
Then leaving the harbor with three boxes of small crabs, Baker pointed at the sky: “We need a Christ or a miracle to change the situation in Gaza, since all Israel’s political parties seek to screw us up.”
After Israelis went to the polls last week, I talked to Palestinians in Gaza about the results. I found that many wondered, ‘How and When will Gaza be wiped out?’– no matter by ‘Who’.
The election was marked by the historic decision by Ayman Odeh, chairman of the Palestinian Joint List, to endorse Benny Gantz to become the next Prime Minister. Gantz is a well-known war criminal for Gazans as chief of staff when Israel attacked Gaza in 2014. However, they believe that the List’s step was taken only to spoil any chance for rival Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud to win.
Ayman Moin, 33, a writer on Israeli Arab issues, believes that the List’s move was a kind of “turning a blind eye” to the unconcealed long record of war crimes committed by Gantz when he was a former army chief in Netanyahu’s government against the Palestinians, and even against their Palestinian siblings in Israel itself.
Joint List mostly represents Palestinian citizens, and is the 3rd biggest vote-getter with 13 seats. Like much of Israeli politics over the past decade, the value placed on Palestinian voting power has been centred almost exclusively on one issue: ousting Netanyahu.
“Running to oust Netanyahu is not enough of an endeavor against this Zionist system, which believes in Arab eradication,” Moin said. It is a fixed game that has no rules or turns for Arabs nor the Palestinians to share in the stadium. “Both parties [Blue and White, Likud] and even Labor were involved in bloodshed in Gaza and the West Bank too.”
Moin went on to say that no one in Gaza “can easily forget a beloved who has been killed, jailed for years, nor a house demolished by the same perpetrator.”
His view was shared by Saifuldeen Dalloul, 30, who holds an accounting degree and drives a wooden cart and sells nuts. “Whether they [Israeli] elect, revote, Netanyahu won or Ariel Sharon [who died in 2014]… the change will be zero on the ground. Or big negatives towards more tragedies; starting from land-seizing, more bodies, down to wide unimaginable, non-ending hostilities.”
Commenting on the Joint List’s endorsement of Gantz for becoming the PM, Dalloul says that step is an “unforgivable mistake”.
“Both men in the elections are on the same page to marginalize the Palestinians in the upcoming government,” Dalloul said. Given Israeli leaders’ history of racist incitement, “Gaza will not find a proponent as long as their siblings [in Israel] fail to find so.”
Gantz boasted of bombing Gaza “back to the stone age.” He and his political partner, Yair Lapid, have repeatedly derided the Joint List as extremists who don’t represent their constituents, and have rejected the conditions put forward by Odeh for backing Gantz’s candidacy, conditions ranging from recognizing dozens of Bedouin villages in Israel to cancelling the Jewish nation-state law, so as to reflect the basic needs and rights of Palestinian citizens.
“Come on, catch the iron, not the air!” Maisa Abu Harbid, 23, a math studies graduate, cried. “This circle of political acts in Israel will lead to a military acts too. For us as Palestinians we don’t expect anything, but a fourth, fifth or sixth war and displacement.”
She adds: “Since 1948, the Palestinians have no physical or sentimental place like the Israel citizens, settlers. So you think our minority Arab community in Israel is able to change such majority colonial mentality? That’s so far away from our eyes!”
People in Gaza still believe that their stolen land rights must be recovered, however long it takes. Families still cherish their rusty keys to homes they fled decades ago in what was to become the state of Israel. The 75-week-long “Great March of Return” calls for Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to flee during Israel’s founding.
I spoke to Rasha Baraka, a writer in the affairs of Arab communities in Israel, who think that currently there is a “war of existence, cultural and civilizational against the whole Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and those communities. So, whoever will run Israel will be an occupying power hanging over the historic land and rights.”
She added that the Israel’s coastal cities are almost empty from their Arab inhabitants due to the state’s racist legislation that opposed any Arab demographic growth.
Such racist policies, from which the people of Gaza themselves suffered the most, leaves Gazans convinced that it will be impossible for Palestinians to achieve any semblance of democratic equality and coexistence. The Israeli government is dominated by right-wing parties that led two of the last three wars on Gaza (2012, 2014) that left thousands of unspeakable wounds open till this date.
In al-Zawya, Gaza city’s spices market, Muzaffar Tafish, a seller of homemade cheese and herbs believes that the “battle is far from over.” He says: “Military solutions can not settle a battle, but returning the rights to their claimants can do so. Otherwise, there is no place for forgiveness, and the battle will goes on, as in many countries which were liberated from the European colonialism.”
Palestinians in Gaza believe that both Gantz and Netanyahu believe that military force is the solution to all dilemmas with the Palestinians in this country, and that Israelis think that Palestinians will succumb at the end. This electoral rise of both men is simply the result of Israeli society growing more right wing.
“I would advise Netanyahu that making more battles and enemies will not make you a hero,” Tafish said. He is 60 years old and has never left Gaza ever. “On the other hand, Gantz is not a heavenly angel. We have had enough of living with a delusion. But no single country on earth has agreed to live in peace with the invader, so why must we change the human instinct?”
Since establishing Israel, its leaders have succeeded in convincing voters to vote for the person who can save their lives from threats. The politicians intimidate their own constituents by speaking of restless enemies. So voters always elect the worriers-about-security.
As a result, people in Gaza have experienced siege and war for the last 13 years. Ayman Moin said, “We do not look forward to long-term or strategic solutions, we are just eager to breathe again. People barely have their heads above the water. Their bodies are nearly drowned and they are hoping for a dose of oxygen.”
Many people I talked to say they are lucky just to be alive biologically and mentally, having survived the last three hostilities. Being able to breathe the Mediterranean breeze at the end of the day is a kind of gift to one’s self, to live another day, it is said here. Others experience survival guilt due to the loss of loved ones in Israeli’s offensives. Some even tell you that they hope to die if there is another military escalation.
“We are normal as any nation on the planet,” Ayman said. “We seek a livelihood and to live in peace with historic rights. We would like to walk along the sea as a form of recreation and entertainment– not as an act to escape from political tragedy.”