The sound of explosions and gunfire have fallen silent after one month of all-out Israeli military assault on Gaza, bringing an end to the bloodshed that killed at least 1,885 Palestinians — the vast majority civilians — and 67 Israelis (64 of whom were soldiers) since 7 July.
The smoke and dust might have cleared from the horizon as a 72-hour ceasefire appears to hold, but the souls of victims still soar over Gaza — which has been subjected to three large-scale offensives in the last six years.
In the midst of calls to investigate alleged war crimes committed in the besieged Gaza Strip, including the destruction of residential homes, hospitals, schools and mosques; the wiping out of entire families sheltering in their homes; the killing of patients in their hospital beds and the slaying of doctors, paramedics, United Nations humanitarian aid workers and members of the press; Palestinian resistance fighters emerged from their underground locations for some rest after a month of fierce fighting.
Fighting like ghosts
Scenes of utter devastation show the lethal force Israel used during its attacks. However, Palestinian fighters remained in their bunkers and hideouts for weeks confronting invading Israeli troops, taking up sniper positions, launching rockets and fighting invisibly like ghosts in evacuated neighborhoods.
After repeated attempts, The Electronic Intifada managed to get hold of Abu Muhammad, one of the fighters of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades.
A sense of security and caution is essential during military escalations, so being hidden from camera-equipped drones is a tough mission.
Abu Muhammad — not his real name — is forty years old and a father of five children, the eldest of whom is ten years old. He has been engaged in the fighting since the start of Israel’s large-scale offensive last month.
He said that he told his children that he is traveling out of Gaza for medical reasons in order to obscure his disappearance — and in case something happened to him. But his wife knows that he is a resistance fighter and might not come back.
“I miss my family very much, but I’m on a duty to defend my people and retaliate against the invaders’ attacks that killed hundreds of civilians,” Abu Muhammad said. “I try not to contact them a lot — when I speak to my children, I calm them down and say that things will be alright. My wife starts crying whenever I call; emotions run high. I try to make my calls very short.”
Although the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades is the armed wing of Fatah, Hamas’ political rival, during times of Israeli attacks all factions and parties unite under coordinated command.
Wearing a black and yellow face mask and carrying an automatic rifle, Abu Muhammad said he has been a fighter for the past twenty years. He opposes Fatah’s relinquishing of the armed liberation struggle in favor of endless negotiations.
“Our enemy only understands the language of power. Look what happened during the past twenty years of peace talks: more colonization and land theft, killing and destruction — and look now how the resistance is imposing its conditions. The resistance is an asset to the Palestinian people,” he said.
The right to resist
I asked him what he thinks of Israel’s main condition in order to end its hostilities: that Palestinian resistance factions must disarm.
“Whoever agrees to this condition is a traitor,” he said. “We have the right to resist and defend ourselves. Our enemy has nuclear warheads and the most advanced weapons in the world; why is this entity allowed to arm itself? We are under military occupation and have the right even under international law to resist the occupiers.”
Of the approximately 1,885 Palestinians killed and in the last month of Israeli attacks, more than four hundred were children, according to the United Nations. It’s not yet known how many of the victims were fighters and to which factions they belonged.
Soon after the Egypt-mediated 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire went into effect on Tuesday, the Qassam Brigades published the story of 29 of its fighters who fought fierce clashes and managed to stay alive for several days inside a tunnel 25 meters deep in the eastern part of al-Qarara near Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip.
Al-Qassam added that fighters ate just half of one date each per day and drank only half a cup of water.
Israel says that 64 of its soldiers were killed and hundreds were injured. Most of the fierce confrontations took place along the boundary line in northern and eastern areas of the Gaza Strip, including Beit Hanoun, east of Shujaiya, east of Khan Younis and east ofRafah.
Abu Muhammad said that he will not return home until the battle is officially over, but added that he cannot wait to hug his children and have a meal with his family.
“We will not rest until we liberate our occupied land,” Abu Muhammad said. “Resistance is a winning card — politicians, especially Fatah leaders, must understand that the olive branch will not liberate Palestine. We gave the olive branch and peace process more than twenty years, but we still live under Israeli occupation.”
Palestinian journalist Yousef Al-Helou is a Reuters fellow at Oxford University and can be followed on Twitter: @YousefAlhelou.