By Amira Hass 1/31/07

For years Gaza has been identified with rifles held aloft, with mothers expressing joy at the fact that their sons have committed suicide in an attack against Israelis, and with pleading looks by people who have nothing to eat at home. Not only Israelis see these television scenes as representing reality in its entirety, so do those Palestinians living in the West Bank who have never entered Gaza – certainly not during the past 16 years, since Israel began to prevent free entry and exit from this impoverished and crowded strip of land.

Only a prolonged stay among the residents of Gaza can add other nuances to the televised version. The jokes and the rumors, the talent for self-mockery, the power of endurance that alternates with fatalism, the frankness, the generosity, the ability to be both emotional and tough at once, the common sense acquired over 60 years of exile and loss, the shouting and the silence, the pain over the fact that education was once the highest priority. These are only some of the character traits that endear the residents of Gaza to those who know them well.

And these are the nuances that have been erased in recent weeks, as Gaza has come to be identified first and foremost with lethal internecine battles between armed men from two hostile political movements, with mutual killing that everyone says is insane but which they are unable to stop.

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