Oman


Palestinian expats in Oman jubilant as Gaza truce comes into effect


Hamas leader Mahmoud Al Zahar, centre, gestures during a rally held by Palestinians celebrating what they said was a victory over Israel, following a ceasefire in Gaza, on Tuesday. Photo: AFP

Muscat: As Ismail Qeshta spoke about the long-term ceasefire accepted by Hamas and Israel on Tuesday night, there was relief in his voice, and also joy.

Ismail, hailing from Gaza and living in Muscat, along with many other Palestinian residents of Oman, finally had something to celebrate after 50 days of war in which 2,143 Palestinians and 70 Israelis were killed.

Though the terms of the ceasefire aren't perfect, the sense of relief was clear since at least they know their families are safe now.

"I cried. The first thing I did was to call my wife just to say 'mabrook' and thank God, you are safe now that this war is finished," Ismail told the Times of Oman Wednesday afternoon.

 He hasn't seen his wife in over a year, but the sense of relief was palpable. He then called many other friends and families in Gaza to share his happiness.

"Yesterday I called many people, more than I called at the time of Eid. Probably twenty of them, even those I don't usually call. When I talked to them I could hear people shouting and happily celebrating," he said.

For the first time in 50 days, Ismail slept through the night without waking every hour to check the news bulletins aired by Gaza's TV channels, as he had become used to doing. For days, he had been waiting for some happy breaking news.

This Wednesday morning was pleasantly surprising. Instead of reports of new air strikes and more casualties, there was some positive news.

"This morning the first thing I did was to tune into this channel to see the news bar. Today, for the first day in 50 days, I saw victorious news. Alhamdullilah," Ismail said.

The last three days of the war were especially difficult for Ismail's wife, because their infant son, Khaled, was sick, and they had to risk leaving their home to go to the clinic. Only once they were safely home did she tell Ismail that they had been to the doctor because she didn't want him to worry.

"It was very dangerous. She had jut left the clinic when there was an air strike," Ismail said.

Ismail described the past two months as a nightmare. Every day, he worried that his wife or son, who he hasn't seen in person yet, or another family member might be caught in some tragic situation, and he would carry the guilt for not having being able to bring them to Oman.

"When I used to browse through the names of the dead, I used to imagine that I would end up seeing some day one of my family members' name. It scared me," he admitted.

Ismail lost some distance relatives in the conflict and some of his family members lost their homes in the airstrikes, but compared to others, who lost entire families, he was lucky.

Palestinians relax; draw plans to visit their homeland
Now he can finally relax and once again plan to visit his homeland, now that the borders may soon be open.

Amjad Khalifeh, a Palestinian-Canadian who also lives in Muscat, said he was glad to see the end of the war and hoped that life could return to normal for his friends and everyone else in Gaza.

"I was happy to see the happiness among the people in Gaza and all Palestinians in Palestine and elsewhere. I'm very happy for those who remain safe and unhurt in Gaza.  "Hopefully the siege will end and they will go back to their normal lives and they can live like normal, ordinary people who can travel, work, build their country, build their infrastructure, not feel under stress, not have to starve, or live at the mercy of a merciless occupying power," he said.

Though not all the Palestinian objectives were met in the ceasefire, Amjad said the Palestinian resistance emerged victorious by opening the land border with Israel and extending the fishing area from three nautical miles to six, both measures aimed at easing the effects of the blockade on Gaza.

"They haven't accomplished everything they wanted and I think it will take more time, but I think the resistance has won. It was a very high price they paid in terms of casualties and pain, but at least they achieved something," he said.

Cautiously optimistic
Shorooq Abu Nasser, a Palestinian who has lived in Oman since she was a young child, said she was happy watching mothers and children in Gaza on TV talking about winning the war, but added that it was too soon to celebrate yet.

"We have witnessed many broken ceasefires before last night's, and I cannot celebrate this ceasefire announcement just yet. There are so many things to be done first, but I must say that I am proud of Palestinians who struggled over the past 50 days and managed to be patient and strong. They truly showed the world that, with the long blockade and the injustice they've witnessed, they still teach life," Shorooq said.

While more needs to be done to improve life for Palestinians in Gaza, Shorooq says the current terms will at least guarantee some basic human rights and needs. When the terms are revisited, they should include an airport and seaport in Gaza, and a connection to the West Bank, all of which would help end the blockade.

"Palestinians, no matter where they are, have the right to unite and stand together against oppression without the oppressor's approval," explained Shorooq.

But even if those goals are met, they may not last. In 1998, Gaza's airport opened only to be bombed and bulldozed by the Israelis three years later, a precedent they fear will be repeated.

Ismail, Amjad and Shorooq all expressed a lot of relief that a ceasefire had been agreed upon, but they aren't completely convinced that it will last unless the international community holds Israel accountable to the ceasefire's terms. "If we have a victory today, it is just a short term one because there is no guarantee.  "Israel will say we can build a port and open the borders, but this is a short term measure," Ismail predicted.

Ongoing support
Now that the war is over, Gazans can begin to rebuild. Now people in Oman and elsewhere can help Gaza by sending material to help rebuild, food, medicine and other goods that are needed after the siege. Over 11,000 Palestinians were injured in the war and approximately 100,000 are now homeless.

"There's an immediate need for financial support and supplies and help for the people of Gaza since the infrastructure is totally destroyed. This is where the GCC role comes into play. They should be more supportive financially and unconditionally," Amjad explained.

He said governments should look at the needs of the nearly two million people in Gaza without letting their political views of Hamas limit their generosity.

"We shouldn't deny them this win. We shouldn't deny the people of Gaza the right to live peacefully and in humane conditions," he said.

For Ismail, Shorooq and Amjad, the outpouring of support from Omanis and other people around the world has been incredibly important, and they all hope it won't end now.

"To guarantee a better life for Palestinians, the world needs to stay informed, to boycott and divest, and most importantly, to send humanitarian aid to help re-build destroyed homes, mosques, churches, hospitals, schools, and other buildings. Israelis should be held accountable by the whole world for the lost lives and the destruction they left behind," said Shorooq.

Amjad said there are many levels of support, such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which encourages people to stop buying Israeli products and hurt Israel economically and encourage it to treat Palestinians better.

"I think this should continue until Israel really abides by the international law and the United Nations' resolutions. We shouldn't lose the momentum on that front," noted Amjad.

The use of social media by people in Gaza and their international supporters has made the world much more aware of Gaza, the severity of Israel's attacks and the effect the siege has had on Palestinians. The pro-Palestinian rallies held in cities around the world, the millions of tweets sent out in solidarity, and other signs of support were very significant to the people of Gaza, Ismail said.

"Now everyone knows about Gaza. For me, as a Palestinian living outside of Gaza, this is important. I don't want people to forget what happened. It doesn't end with the ceasefire.

"Now, 70 years later, the Israelis keep reminding people about what happened during the Holocaust. We should remind people every day about what happened in Gaza," Ismail concluded.

To get in touch: sarah@timesofoman.com

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