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Recovering From Airstrikes, Gazans Consider How To Move Forward With Israel

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

People in the Gaza Strip have spent about a week sifting through the rubble and restarting their routines after the intense 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Gazan authorities say Israeli airstrikes killed 250 Gazans, while Israel says rocket attacks by Hamas killed 12 people there. And Gazans are reflecting on whether armed confrontation with Israel is the right path. NPR's Becky Sullivan reports that for now, support for armed conflict prevails.

BECKY SULLIVAN, BYLINE: At a stadium in Gaza City this week, they were having what Hamas billed as a victory rally. Hundreds of Gazans were there, many waving green Hamas flags, and a bunch of little boys with toy guns were posing with actual masked militants holding real rifles. We spotted a dad and his teenage daughter there together - Osama and Shahed Mushtaha. Shahed's a very vocal 16-year-old who coaxed her dad to come out today. Osama told us through an interpreter that he supports Fatah, the party of the Palestinian Authority who are committed to diplomatic deals with Israel.

OSAMA MUSHTAHA: (Through interpreter) We are just seeking and looking for a diplomatical (ph), peaceful, filled-with-agreements peace, especially for our case in Palestine.

SULLIVAN: But now there's an entire young generation of Gazans who have had violence with Israel loom over their whole lives, who haven't lived in the same atmosphere their parents did, when it seems like peace talks could bring an independent country for Palestinians.

SHAHED MUSHTAHA: (Through interpreter) My father believes in peace and negotiations. But for me, I'm a 16-year-old Palestinian girl whose only dream is to live in peace and happiness. But they're not giving us that dream. So now I want every child to feel the same terror that I feel here in Gaza.

SULLIVAN: We heard this kind of sentiment a lot in Gaza this week, even from people who haven't supported Hamas in the past. Israel withdrew troops and settlers from Gaza back in 2005. After that, Hamas - which Israel and the U.S. consider to be a terrorist group - took over Gaza. Israel says it restricts the border and fights these periodic wars to defend itself against militants who attack them. The blockade means most people here can't easily travel outside of Gaza, and the economy has been bad for a long time. Gazans mostly blame Israel for that. Recent polls from before the latest conflict had showed Hamas losing popularity. But now, some are changing their minds.

MAISA KHADER: We are normal people. We don't like war. We want to live in peace.

SULLIVAN: That's Maisa Khader, a 38-year-old chemist and spiritual healer who we met at the seaside food court up above the beach in Gaza City. Back in 2014, during the last war with Israel, she didn't support the Hamas rocket fire. But she's followed the news of the possible evictions of some Palestinians in Jerusalem and Israeli police in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

KHADER: This is completely unfair. We have to defend. We have to do something. We will not be silent. We tried peace, but we lose. Every time, we lose. We don't have our rights.

SULLIVAN: Now, Gaza is faced with rebuilding yet again. Usama Kuhail is a construction contractor. He says desperation is what explains this shift in opinion.

USAMA KUHAIL: (Through interpreter) This war, for me - it was the first war that I see all of the Palestinians in Palestine and Gaza Strip that doesn't been afraid because they don't have anything to lose. So give them the life that they want. Give them the opportunities that they want. Give them the hope. Give them something that they could be afraid of losing.

SULLIVAN: Negotiations over how to rebuild Gaza are underway.

Becky Sullivan, NPR News, Gaza City.

(SOUNDBITE OF FERNANDO OLAYA SONG, "STEREOPHONIK") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.