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Israelis Return to Sense of Normalcy After Eight-Day Hamas Conflict

November 22, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
Israeli reserve troops retreated from the border, relieving fears of an Israeli ground operation into Gaza. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Tel Aviv-based journalist Stephanie Freid about the anxious calm that has settled in for Israelis, who wait to see if the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas will hold.

TRANSCRIPT

HARI SREENIVASAN: In Israel, reserve troops began moving away from the border with Gaza. Many Israelis were grateful a ground operation had been averted.

And a day after a bomb ripped through a bus during the Tel Aviv rush hour, injuring 27, Israel announced it had arrested a suspect, an Arab Israeli man with ties to Hamas.

I spoke with Stephanie Freid, a freelance journalist in Tel Aviv, a short time ago.

Stephanie, you’re just back from Southern Israel, the region that was most affected by those rocket attacks. How are people now at 24 hours after the cease-fire?

STEPHANIE FREID, freelance journalist: Well, people are venturing out for the first time.

I mean, I talked to people who had been in house for eight days, people who had stayed close to their bomb shelters inside their homes. So that was one significant change, because I have been down in the south throughout the entire week. People were out. They were shopping. It wasn’t the ghost town that — the areas down south weren’t the ghost towns.

I was in one specific town today. It wasn’t the ghost town that they had been all week. People are not as shaken. A lot of these people have been through this for years. I mean, they have been experiencing this for a number of years. So they’re kind of hardened — not even kind of. They are hardened. They’re shell-shocked, certainly.

They were grateful, relieved, glad to be out getting their hair cut, doing their shopping, going about business, stocking up on some goods. At the same time, they were angry. They seemed very angry about the idea of a truce and the fact that a cease-fire was drawn up.

So, the mood was, it’s not that people were celebrating. They weren’t happy. They were sort of hardened. They’re resigned to this and they were angry.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Have there been any measurements of public opinion on how this was all handled?

STEPHANIE FREID: There have been. And some of the figures that came out tonight are that 46 percent of Israelis feel that in this conflict nobody won at all; 38 percent feel that Binyamin Netanyahu, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister, did a good job; 40 percent feel that the defense minister did a good job as well.

And a full 79 percent feel that the chief of staff — they were pleased with his job in this campaign. Those seem to be rather positive, of course, when people are looking at those numbers, looking ahead to next week’s primaries.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, we saw a huge, massive buildup of troops along the Gaza border. What’s happened to the Israeli military now? Are they withdrawing some?

STEPHANIE FREID: They are withdrawing some.

At the same time, the chief of staff has put out a statement that some will remain. We’re in a cautious period right now. So, while troops, yes, we were seeing them leave, we were seeing the tractors pull up — pull up and pull up the tanks, and the tanks were withdrawing and so were the troops, were getting ready to get — get out.

Some will be left behind. Again, we’re in this period right now of wait-and-see, measuring the situation. Schools are not going back to operating tomorrow. Those kids will still be staying home from school in the south. So the army is also at the same time keeping a presence down there. We don’t get numbers. They won’t give us numbers, but we do know that while some are leaving, some will be staying behind.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, now, for most people that don’t necessarily get that this is just a cooling-off period or a 24- or 72-hour period where the shelling is stopped, then they’re supposed to resume negotiations, give us an idea of where those negotiations are supposed to start.

STEPHANIE FREID: Well, that’s a good guess on anyone’s part.

I did speak to a political analyst this evening, and he said there won’t be long-term negotiations. That was his — his basic take on this entire situation is that four years ago after Cast Lead, there was an agreement put into place then. He said there were dozens of clauses. He said not one was adhered to. He said there won’t be any long-term negotiations in terms of real time or anything significant in moving forward.

There’s not a timeline officially on that. However, the sense is that even if there would be negotiations on a long-term agreement, that there’s not much stock put into it, not much meaning, that this campaign was about buying time for right now and that there won’t be any long-term implementation of these agreements.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Stephanie, you have been talking to people all along the region. How much of that campaign that you mention and that election in the next couple of weeks is playing into these events? Do people on the ground see this — some level of this as political posturing?

STEPHANIE FREID: Well, absolutely.

There were many, many people during the campaign who felt that perhaps — and certainly on the flip side, on the other side, Palestinians — and, in fact, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of creating this campaign or going forward with the campaign to try and sabotage the U.N. bid, the Palestinian U.N. bid and also as a ploy for election — for garnering votes for the upcoming election for the incumbent government.

The fact of the matter is that when I spoke with people on the ground again today down in the south, these are the constituents that would primarily vote for Prime Minister Netanyahu. And right now, they’re not very happy with him. And many, many people said they’re withdrawing their vote in the coming election, that they will not be voting for his Likud Party. They’re unhappy with the fact that there was a pullback from a full-scale invasion.

People living in the south who — again, who have been through this situation and this scenario for years and years, wanted to see a ground invasion. They wanted — they said they wanted to see — some people said they wanted to see Gaza flattened. They said they wanted to see things taken to the end.

They weren’t — they weren’t certain what that meant. When pushed to the wall, what does that mean, taking this situation to the end? They weren’t really certain really what that meant. But, again, this could be something that, politically, may not work in the prime minister’s favor coming into this election.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Stephanie Freid from Tel Aviv, thanks so much for joining us.

STEPHANIE FREID: Thank you.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Online, we have updated our slide show of images from the Middle East.