Today, despite Hamas's offers of ceasefire, no Israeli politician wants to talk—and so the people of Gaza continue to sufferby Alex Renton / March 28, 2008 / Leave a comment
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Qassam rockets rise surprisingly slowly, leaving faint scribbles of smoke in an early evening sky, like fireworks let off prematurely. We watched them as we sipped dusty sweet coffee last Wednesday, waiting for the Palestinian police at the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel to check our passports. As each rocket rose there came a shout from the men who hang around the checkpoint to see if they can make a shekel or two carrying luggage across the free-fire zone to the Israeli side. It is hard and dangerous work, but there are not many jobs in Gaza today—by some reports unemployment is up 30 per cent since the blockade began last June. Gaza City looks pretty much like any poor Arab town, apart from the bullet scars; the oddest thing at first sight is how many men are on the streets.
As we walked across the wasteland to the high wall that keeps Gazans out of Israel, two thin smoke trails rose simultaneously into the pale blue sky, half a kilometre or so away. We watched them come to their apex and begin to fall. A second or so later, we heard twin thuds. The target was Sderot. The Israeli town lies less than a thousand metres over the border, in easy reach of the home-made Qassams. Sometimes a hundred of these crude two-metre rockets land on the little university town in a month—but only rarely do they cause casualties. On Wednesday, Hamas militants fired 40 Qassams, an expression of anger at an Israeli air assault in Khan Younis early in the morning that had killed five of Hamas’s “best fighters.”
Ten minutes later we were sitting by the bare grey concrete of the Israeli security wall, under a sign reading “Weapons is not permitted.” Everyone smoked, an old man in an Arab headdress nodded off to sleep on the ground: getting through the Israeli border point takes a lot of patience. The electronic doors and turnstiles stay locked until someone, somewhere, decides they should open. The Oxfam team I was travelling with had been held up for two hours on Wednesday, four hours the day before. As we chatted, watching another smoke trail rise in the sky, a Channel 4 reporter’s mobile phone rang. The pair of rockets we’d watched rise so unimpressively had killed a middle-aged father in…