I had finished writing this article. It was an optimistic piece, as you will see below. When I first started writing, the 12 hour ceasefire was ending and Israel had agreed to a 4-hour extension. There was hope this extension could be expanded further. That hope ended a few minutes ago, when Hamas launched rockets at various parts of Israel. It was hoped Hamas would be pressured by the people in Gaza who got out today and saw some of the devastation – or that Gazans would pressure Hamas to at least keep the ceasefire until until Monday, the Feast of Eid al-Fitr. Hamas believes it can achieve more by continuing to fire on Israel. Hamas is only willing to end this war on its own terms, terms that Israel will clearly not accept.
Where does this leave the diplomatic efforts? The answer to that question is unclear. One thing is clear – to date, these efforts have probably hurt more than they helped. Hamas began to believe that its demands would be met. After all, the United States, The U.N. and some of the Europeans believed ending the fighting was the first and foremost goal, and that everything else was secondary. However, both Hamas and Secretary of State Kerry seemed to have forgotten that there are two additional parties to the conflict – Israel, and to a lesser extent, Egypt – neither of whom agree to Hamas’ demands. The Israeli cabinet tonight accepted the UN request for another 24 hours of ceasefire. There is still some hope that Hamas will agree to an extended ceasefire of and then maybe there will be agreement to extend further. That hope seems to have faded some this evening as its clear that the Hamas's military wing is calling all the shots.
The citizens of Tel Aviv awoke this Saturday morning to the first day – in over two weeks – when they did not have to worry about alert sirens going off; or fear missiles falling from the sky; they did not have to dread that their sons, husbands or brothers might be killed or wounded in Gaza at any moment. Today the citizens of Tel Aviv awoke to a temporary ceasefire. Albeit brief, the ceasefire could be felt in the streets of the city. For the first time in weeks the cafes were crowded this Saturday morning. I went down to the beach, (the same beach that last week was almost completely empty), and found it filled with people this Saturday morning. Of course, the beach was not nearly as filled as it would usually be on a Saturday morning in July. One group was totally absent – the tourists.
Given the quiet, I took the opportunity to chat with people along the beach. I walked away with the sense there was guarded optimism amongst the beach goers. Most decided to return to the shore today because of the ceasefire. Some said they believed the ceasefire would be extended, (beyond initially agreed upon 12 hours). Others believed that the current round of fighting was over. Still others thought the fighting might go on for a few more days until all of the tunnels had been destroyed. None was optimistic that this would be last time we would go to war with Hamas in Gaza. One of the most pessimistic people I spoke with was a man in his early 70’s who has lived his whole life a few blocks away from where we were talking on beach. He talked about the profound hatred expressed by Arabs towards Israel and Jews he has felt throughout his life. Then, he shared a story with me about his father who owned a store in Jaffa, (now part of Tel Aviv, originally a separate town). In 1936, he was warned by a Christian Arab to leave his store and not come back that night. That night, it – and many other Jewish stores – were burned down. His father never returned to Jaffa. He was the most discouraged of all those who I met this morning.
Meanwhile, the Gazans who have now returned to the neighborhoods that were seized by Israel have been shocked by the complete devastation. However, much of that devastation has been caused by Israel's calculated destruction of entire streets under which tunnels ran. Israeli troops report that almost every single house in these neighborhoods was connected to Hamas' intricate tunnel network.
Many people in Gaza have died. The images of the wounded and dead Gazans have entered the Israeli consciousness, but Israelis have no idea how to react. There is no question that it hurts. Still, nobody has any solutions. I heard one opponent of the war ask a former army officer– "Isn’t there any way to hit the missiles and not kill anyone?". The answer was an absolute – "No". Four more Israeli soldiers died in Gaza before the ceasefire. The overwhelming majority of Israelis are comfortable with the army using deadly and overwhelming force against targets firing at Israeli soldiers (even if they are hiding among civilians). Some are disturbed. Tonight there was a demonstration in Rabin Square, in Tel Aviv. Nearly 5,000 people gathered to call on the government to end the war. This demonstration had to be ended when Hamas broke the ceasefire, thus making it dangerous to have that many people in the public square when the sirens could go off. A surreal situation in a very difficult war.