Palestinian Territories, Nov 22 – Gaza’s streets, empty and quiet during a week of violence, were once again flooded with cars and people on Thursday as life returned to normal after a truce deal between Hamas and Israel.
The contrast between the deserted roads of the past eight days, and the scenes of joyful chaos on Gaza City’s thoroughfares on Thursday was almost comical.
“Move it, people! Go, go, go!” one frustrated Hamas policeman shouted in a futile attempt to diffuse a traffic jam, as a coffee vendor threaded his way between the cars.
The clogged streets would have been unthinkable 24 hours earlier, as Israeli missiles fell and Palestinian rockets were launched skywards.
His voice was barely audible over the sounds of honking cars and a nearby celebration organised by militants from Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
Participants waved the yellow flags of the Brigades and red flags of the PFLP as residents watched from nearby buildings. The mood was palpably joyful, with strangers greeting each other with handshakes and smiles.
Outside the parliament building, thousands gathered for a celebration organised by Hamas, many waving the movement’s trademark green flag.
Although it was led by Hamas, the gathering had an unusually non-partisan feel for Gaza, where the movement has often cracked down on displays of support for other Palestinian organisations, including arch-rival Fatah.
Parents carried children with the words “Hamas” in green and “Fatah” in yellow painted onto their cheeks, and some waved the flags of both movements.
Sixty-year-old Yusef Jdeidah was smiling as he watched the scene.
“The thing I’m happiest about is that the Palestinian people seem to be coming together. This, I think, is the best and most beautiful outcome of a terrible war,” he said.
After days and nights cooped up at home, residents were eager to reclaim their hometowns and their lives.
Many stopped by newspaper vendors to pick up a daily or ate breakfast at one of the falafel stands dotting the city. People were also visiting multiple sites bombed by Israel, taking pictures of the damage with their mobile phones.
Shop owners began to reopen, some for the first time since the violence began on November 14 with Israel’s targeted killing of a senior Hamas military commander, and electrical workers and glaziers were out in force, repairing the damage caused by the bombing.
Some swept the pavements in front of their shops, as locals queued in front of cash machines, withdrawing money now that places were open for business again.
Not far from the demonstration, 23-year-old Majdi Kheil was manning a stall selling nuts and seeds, nodding approvingly as a hit song called “Hit, Hit Tel Aviv” belted out of the speakers.
“I finally feel comfortable and safe, this is the first time I’ve worked since the war started,” he said.
“I’m really glad the groups seem to be working together and think the truce was detailed, so I hope it will last.”
Hamas declared Thursday a public holiday — “a national holiday of victory” — in a statement issued the night before after the ceasefire went into effect.
It called on Palestinians “to celebrate this occasion and visit the families of the martyrs and the wounded and those affected by the violence, and to affirm national solidarity”.
Gaza’s children, virtually absent from the streets since the violence began, will begin to return to school from Saturday.
But in the meantime they too were taking advantage of the festive atmosphere, successfully entreating their parents to buy them new clothes, a toy, or some ice cream.