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Israel-Hamas Aim To Reduce Hostilities As Gaza Restraints Eased


All right. So a small window of hope has opened for some people in the blockaded Gaza Strip. They are being allowed to go to jobs in Israel. This is one of several changes under a deal to reduce hostilities between Israel and Hamas, which runs Gaza. But don't call it an agreement. It is still too sensitive for that. Here's more from NPR's Daniel Estrin.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: I haven't seen anything like this in all the years that I've been visiting Gaza. I'm at the border crossing between Israel and Gaza. And usually, it's a totally dead parking lot. But now there are scores of Palestinians from Gaza crossing into Israel.


ESTRIN: Drivers calling out the names of cities in Israel where they're going to take people to work.

After Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Israel blocked most Palestinians from crossing the fortified border to go to jobs in Israel. That crushed Gaza's economy. Over the last few years, Israel has gradually issued more work permits to Gazans and recently speeded that up to a record high. Now more than 5,000 Palestinians from Gaza are being allowed into Israel.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Through interpreter) If you get a work permit, you're treated like a professor.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Through interpreter) It's like finding treasure, like a prisoner being let free.

(Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Mahmoud Ghaben got his work permit, and he threw a party with a live band. His cousin Bilal took a joyride, blasting the stereo, when he got his nearly half of the population in Gaza is unemployed. And it's the first time many of the men here have had steady work since Israel sealed the border more than a decade ago. This is one of the gestures Israel is offering Gaza. I walk through the crossing from Israel to the Gaza side and see another.

On the right, there's a big white tent, several six or seven smaller tents.

It's a field hospital a U.S. Christian group is building to provide medical treatment not available in Gaza. These changes are part of a deal being worked out between Israel and Hamas. There's no signed agreement. These enemies only talk through mediators. I asked Hamas spokesman Abdel Latif Qanou what this deal is.

ABDEL LATIF QANOU: (Through interpreter) It's not a cease-fire. It's not an agreement. It's quiet for quiet.

ESTRIN: Quiet in exchange for quiet. Both sides like to call it the understandings. Hamas is to prevent rocket fire on Israel and to prevent confrontations at the Israeli border fence. For two years, Palestinians held weekly protests there. Israel called them violent riots and attempts to breach the barrier. And Israeli troops killed several hundred Palestinians there and wounded thousands. Now the protests are on hold. Hamas spokesman Qanou.

QANOU: (Through interpreter) Let's remember what was the situation in Gaza before the understandings. It was about to be exploded. Gaza was on the edge of collapsing. Now we have a lot of improvement that everybody can see.

ESTRIN: Egypt has opened its border for travel out of Gaza. And Qatar is supporting poor families. Israel is boosting electricity to Gaza to reduce daily power cuts and letting fishermen venture farther out into the Mediterranean. And for the first time since Hamas took control in Gaza, Israel is allowing snacks made in Gaza to be exported overseas. A few weeks ago, Wael Wadiya's factory started exporting chocolate-covered cream puffs to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

WAEL WADIYA: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: Wadiya says he hopes to double or triple his factory staff to keep up with export demand. And he started experimenting with new cream-puff toppings - Oreo, hazelnut and coconut.

WADIYA: (Through interpreter) Necessity is the mother of invention. When the gate to export was opened, I thought, what can we do new?

ESTRIN: But it will take a lot to reverse years of deprivation in Gaza. And many Gazans say they don't feel the benefits yet of the Israel-Hamas understandings.

HISHAM ABU GHABEN: (Non-English language spoken).

ESTRIN: "It's like a Bollywood film, a show," says Hisham Abu Ghaben. Like most Gazans, he doesn't have the few hundred dollars you need for the paperwork to apply for an Israeli work permit. He's sitting in his living room with his 18-year-old son, one of more than a hundred young Palestinians who had a leg amputated after Israeli troops shot them at the Gaza border protests.

ABU GHABEN: (Through interpreter) The protest stopped, and I'm against that. There were a lot of sacrifices. What did we get in return? Why did they stop the protests? I want to understand why. What solution did it bring?

ESTRIN: The improvements in Gaza can be reversed in an instant if heavy violence starts up again. But if Israel continues to relax restrictions, more Gazans will feel the impact. Hamas will gain, too, says Gaza political science professor Mkhaimar Abusada.

MKHAIMAR ABUSADA: If there's going to be a deal, it will be good for Hamas that the daily life conditions will improve. The difficulties that 2 million Palestinians are facing in Gaza will improve. And that will ease the internal pressure against Hamas. Let me remind you that in March of 2019, the Palestinians in Gaza revolted against Hamas under the slogan, we want to live.

ESTRIN: Some Israelis are criticizing the overtures to Gaza. Centrist Benny Gantz, who's running against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says Netanyahu's policy is rewarding terrorists. Some Israelis say Hamas should first return two Israeli captives and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers. Cabinet Minister Yoav Gallant defends the policy on Israeli TV.


YOAV GALLANT: (Through interpreter) This is a clear-eyed policy to allow us to calm things down and bring quiet. This is not a wide arrangement. When we get there, we will have demands, like a prisoner swap.

ESTRIN: Whatever you want to call this indirect agreement, It's very different from Israel's longtime policy to isolate Hamas and break its hold on Gaza. Instead, Hamas and average Gazans are getting some relief. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONS OF KEMET'S "PLAY MASS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.