The Gaza Assault Seen Up Close

Heading into day six of Israel's assault on the Gaza Strip, over 400 people have been killed and many more have been wounded. Madeleine Brand talks to Gaza resident Jason Shawa about the situation there.

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MADELEINE BRAND, host:

Turning now to another Middle East conflict, in Gaza, an Israeli air attack killed one of the senior leaders of Hamas. It's the first major blow to Hamas after six days of Israeli airstrikes. Some 400 people have died in Gaza so far, and the United Nations reports that a quarter of them are civilians.

Joining us now is Gaza resident Jason Shawa. He's the owner of a printing press there, and he's watching the conflict play out from his home in Gaza City. Welcome to the program, and tell us, what is it like where you are today? What are you seeing?

Mr. JASON SHAWA: Well, it's quite scary, actually. I mean, most people are housebound. Bombing is taking place everywhere and anywhere at any given time of day. Not much electricity in town. Food and drink is a problem. Everything is basically a problem these days.

BRAND: And I understand that hospitals are short staffed and don't have a lot of supplies and that the situation there is pretty dire.

Mr. SHAWA: Yeah. They're extremely short staffed. And even before what happened, they were extremely short staffed, and they had extremely minimal medicines and supplies, and they were never really equipped for such a scale of dealing with casualties and wounded people and stuff like that.

BRAND: And do you know anyone who's been the victim of the bombing?

Mr. SHAWA: I know a couple of friends whose homes were practically demolished, but they were - escaped without injuries because they were outside the house. They knew that the area was going to be bombed, so they left.

BRAND: How much warning are you given that there will be an airstrike?

Mr. SHAWA: Usually none. Many people who live near police stations or government offices or whatnot, as a precautionary measure, they just leave in case because they kind of grew accustomed to that.

Israel, when they start their bombing campaign, they usually don't give warnings or don't discriminate if this is a government office or something belonging to the Ministry of Health or a military camp for Hamas or whatnot. They just in general bomb indiscriminately, very randomly, so many people take precautions if they have any offices or stuff like that next to them.

BRAND: Now, Israel says that it's making automated phone calls to people warning them that they might be targeted if they are suspected of harboring militants, of Hamas militants or people who are in the leadership in Hamas. Is that...

Mr. SHAWA: Everybody gets those calls. I got one just two days ago. It says, if you have any militants in your building, weapons, guns, whatever, evacuate immediately because the Israeli Air Force is going to bomb the place.

So some people take that seriously, some don't. It depends. I mean, if you know for a fact that your building is clear, you don't leave. Sometimes, they do bomb buildings that are totally civilian, I mean, with no clear explanation as to why they do that. It happens.

BRAND: Before this bombing took place, before the ceasefire ended, Hamas in terms of public opinion polls was not doing very well in the opinions of most Gazans. What is the opinion now, and what is your opinion of Hamas?

Mr. SHAWA: Well, first of all, I'm not sure that they were really that low in the polls before the attack. That is maybe some of the population's opinion. I would say it was kind of 50-50. At this point, the support for them is quite high. Me personally, I've never supported them. I've never been of supporter of Hamas.

But as a Gazan, a citizen of Gaza and a Palestinian, one tends to sympathize with these people. I mean, Hamas was, after all, elected legitimately in the Palestinian elections. I mean, they were democratically elected. You can't ask for democracy, and then when democracy produces something you don't like, you refuse to deal with it.

If you want to talk about people, not governments, you'll find that the vast majority of Arabs in the Middle East and wherever else, they do support - not Hamas as an ideology or whatever, they support a people surrounded in a very small piece of land besieged, not allowed to leave, travel, import goods. That is what they support.

They sympathize with the people in general, be it Hamas. If we had Buddhist government governing Gaza, they would also sympathize with them. It's not really about Hamas or Fatah or whatever.

BRAND: You said you were not a supporter of Hamas before. Are you now more favorably inclined to Hamas?

Mr. SHAWA: No, no, I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't say I am inclined to Hamas or any other party here in Gaza, but human beings by nature will probably go for the underdog. And at this moment in time, Hamas is the underdog.

BRAND: So what do you think needs to happen on your side for the bombing to cease, for there to be another ceasefire?

Mr. SHAWA: I mean, the majority of people here do want peace and quiet. I mean, Palestinians are like any other people in the world. At the end of the day, they are people. They are human beings. Just because they have beards and carry guns and don't speak English or any understandable language to the West doesn't mean they're not human beings. They do want peace, and everybody here does want quiet.

And they do look for a ceasefire, but they don't want a ceasefire like the one that's been going on for the past six months. The least they want is a ceasefire with open borders with no conditions or preconditions. They want to be able to leave, trade with the world, go back and forth like any other human being on this earth.

BRAND: Well, Jason Shawa, thank you very much for speaking with us today, and happy New Year to you.

Mr. SHAWA: Thank you, thank you. My pleasure, bye-bye.

BRAND: Jason Shawa is a Palestinian. He lives in Gaza City, where he runs a printing press.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: Yesterday on the program, we heard from Israeli Anav Silverman in Sderot. To hear our full coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict, visit us online at npr.org/daytoday.

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