GAZA CITY — This is the third war between Israel and Hamas that Abdullah Attar, an eggplant and cucumber farmer here in the Gaza Strip, has seen in six years.
“I lost my house last time, now I almost died,” he said, picking vegetables with his wife and 13 children and nephews. Abdullah, 58, was taking advantage of Thursday’s brief “humanitarian pause” to visit his crops. He didn’t like what he found.
“I haven’t been able to come here for 10 days, and now most everything is dead,” he said, displaying shriveled cucumbers. The eggplants faired a bit better. He collected them in plastic bags, hoping to sell them for a few dollars before the pause ended.
He visited the farm once a few days ago, but as soon as he started picking, he said, the Israelis fired a tank shell at him. It failed to explode, buried in his field. He was saved because the soil was soft.
“If the shell had exploded, we would have all been killed,” he said, showing me the shell. Then he yelled at his curious son for getting to close to the unexploded device.
“We want to live in peace, just like the Israelis,” Abdullah said. “They want security, so do we. They want a future for their children, so do we. But we have none here.”
This is also my third time witnessing and covering conflict in Gaza. Each war has been significantly different.
Three wars: Three motivations.
Each time there is a conflict between Israel and Gaza, accusations fly over who started it, each side blaming the other. What’s indisputable is that each conflict has bubbled up in a unique political climate.
In 2009, Hamas was relatively new to power. It had won elections just three years earlier and was flexing its newfound strength via a war with its old enemy, Israel, which it officially wants destroyed. Israel moved swiftly and decisively to shut down Hamas, not wanting the group to think for a second it could present a serious threat. Israel conducted airstrikes and a several-week land invasion, killing hundreds of Palestinians. There was quiet for a few years after that. Both sides suffered; Gaza in lives, Israel in reputation.
In 2012, Hamas and Israel went to war again. The Arab Spring was underway and the Muslim Brotherhood – which Hamas is a branch of — was on the rise. The Brotherhood had taken over Egypt and won the presidency. Hamas had a huge ally right on its border. Hamas thought its time has come. It thought the Arab world — online and active — was with it. Israel was more cautious this time around, launching airstrikes, but stopping short of invading. Israel didn’t want to wade into the chaotic Arab Spring and bring it home.
This time, the conflict seems to be about money, desperation and isolation. Gaza is broke. Hamas is broke. The people of Gaza are trapped. Israel has sealed the border, and they have no way to leave the Gaza Strip to do business. Egypt, under the new anti-Muslim Brotherhood General Abdul Fatah Sisi, has also closed its border. It also shut Palestinians smuggling tunnels that were a cornerstone of the Gazan economy.
There’s no money around anymore. Shops in Gaza City don’t have change for large bills. Hamas hasn’t been paying salaries for months. The Arab Spring is over. Groups like ISIS have given political Islamists a bad name, even in the Arab world. Hamas seems to be launching this war like a prisoner setting fire to his own cell. It might be a terrible strategy. Israel says it can’t and won’t reward Hamas for violence.
Many in Gaza, farmers like Abdullah, don’t especially like Hamas. But they live here, can’t leave, and say they need a way to get out of their prison other than burning it down.