Jawhar al-Adar has experienced the harshness of fortune on Gaza during her life of 90 years. “I was here for the British occupation, the Egyptian occupation, then the Israelis,” she said. “The only one I missed was when the Ottomans were here”.
She has had to flee her home in the face of violence in the past and she was forced to do so again as war once again came to her village, travelling three hours on the back of a donkey to the refuge of a school.
Thirteen members of her family made the same journey, including three year old granddaughter Reem; strife spanning the generations.
Earlier this week, the Israeli military dropped leaflets, advising that Mrs al-Adar and others like her move from their homes and into Gaza City: “For your safety we demand you evacuate your houses immediately and move towards the centre of Gaza City,” the leaflets said.
Many did not find the place of safety they had expected. “We went to Gaza City, but there were bombs from the first night we got there, it just went on like that, we thought we had just come to another place to get killed” 22 year old Amir Abu-Halima was convinced.
He and 11 relations left the UN camp they had gone to as soon as they heard on the radio that an agreement had been signed. They found that half a wall of the house had gone. “They had fired something heavy through it. There was no reason to do that, we shall just have to repair it” he said. The rebuilding will have to be done with the debris and what other material is collected; cement, which can only be smuggled into Gaza because the Israelis maintain that it can be put to military use, is expensive.
Today, on the first morning of peace, Mrs Al-Adar sat in the sunshine on a plastic chair in front of the family farmhouse, dotted with bullet holes. The leaflets dropped by Israeli military asking residents in the area to leave strewn where the children, relieved to be home, played in the dust.
“We thank Allah and we thank everyone who helped to end the fighting, we don’t want this suffering to continue” she was at pains to stress. “Will the peace last? We shall all pray that it does.”
Throughout the morning, families in the villages in the north of the Strip, along the border, were returning to their lives. Some had left after shells and missiles came near their homes, others following Israeli warnings dropped from the air.
Fatria al-Ghandor was on her way back home with four of her children. They were frightened and tired. She would also have to cope with all the windows of her home being broken; there was no one to help her, she said, her husband had gone away.
The home of Munza Abu-Halima remained undamaged. But there was another problem, a farmer also holding the rank of major in Fatah, he was only too aware that the latest conflict, and the terms of the ceasefire, has greatly increased the prestige of Hamas and diminished that of his own organisation.
“Yes, Hamas did well in this. We have been negotiating for more than 60 years with the Israelis and what have we gained? We are still getting bombed, people can see that more can be gained through resistance” he observed. “What we need now is unity, Hamas and Fatah must get together and present a strong front to the outside world.”
There were plenty of unity marches through Gaza City in what has been declared ‘Day of Victory’. But there was no doubt about who held the whip hand. Hamas, by fighting back, reaching Tel Aviv with its rockets had won concessions of the kind Palestinian premier Mohammed Abbas could not achieve through talking, was the consensus on the streets.
That was certainly the message that Ishmail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister of Gaza, was eager to put over on returning from signing the deal in Cairo. “Our brave resistance fighters have changed the rules of the game. They had the Koran in one hand and the gun on the other. The option of invading Gaza has gone forever for the Israelis” he declared. “I blame the government in Ramallah who just sought justice through negotiations. It was the people demonstrating in the West Bank who showed they are with us in Gaza”.
Mr Haniyeh and the rest of the Hamas leadership went underground after the Israelis assassinated the movement’s head of the military, Ahmed al-Jabari. The killing he insisted was “silly”. It had galvanised the people into “intifada and enhada” - rising and renewal.
Mr Haniyeh was also confident enough to publicly thank Iran for the help given in launching attacks against Israel. “I thank Iran for the money, for the support and the weapons they have given us and everyone who has made it possible for us to receive these” he stated.
Some Fatah officials were keen to capitalise on the current mood. Fadhi Abu Wardha, the general secretary of its youth movement, Shabiba, kept asking people if they were aware that the Al-Aqsa brigade, its military arm, had carried out the Tel Aviv bus bombing, which injured more than 20 people on Wednesday.
He did not get a sympathetic hearing from some. “That is the reason it was so in ineffective, someone just threw a package into the bus and ran away” snorted Yassin Anwar Karim, a Hamas member. His companion, Ibrahim Raidhi pointed out that the bombing could have jeopardised the peace deal. “They do nothing to help us when we are getting all those bombs coming down on us and then they do something which could have cost us the victory in Cairo. That is what Fatah is like, they sleep and then wake up when it’s too late and do something without proper planning.”