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Gaza more interested in digging out from destruction than in Obama

People in Gaza don't have Barack Obama on their mind. As they dig out from a bloody three-week war with Israel, Gazans are in no mood to be charitable to the incoming president of a country many blame for their latest war.

Today I reported from some of the hardest hit areas of Gaza. I have relocated from Rafah in the south up to Gaza City in the north, where damage is severe. From here in Gaza City I headed up near the north border to several of the towns nearly demolished in the fighting.

In the midst of my reporting, I tried to ask people about the Obama inauguration. For once, the shoe was on the other foot. In the year and a half that I've lived in the Middle East, the most frequent questions asked of me by the taxis drivers, doormen, and electricians I've met have been about President Bush. People, alternately, express shock, amazement, and anger at his two terms in office. Of course every once in a while someone throws me a curveball and tells me how much they appreciate his work against terrorism.

But on this trip to Gaza, investigating the opinions of America's 44th President has fallen to me.

Most people only seem to have a passing awareness that Obama is about to assume the presidency.

"We will see," said Ibrahim Abdullah from Jabalaya, a town in the north. "I think he will be better than Bush, but I am not sure."

Abdullah didn't initially seem to know that Obama's inauguration was today.

Others were less generous.

Sager El Muzayin, from the northern town of Tuwam, saw his house destroyed and bulldozed when Israeli tanks rolled through in the early phase of the ground invasion.

"Any new president from America," he said, "their first words are in support of Israel."

When I asked my driver here whether anyone would tune into Al Jazeera or any of the other local networks to watch the inauguration, he just looked at me puzzled for a moment, then laughed.

Even when I invited my Palestinian friends to join me to watch on TV, they quickly thanked me and declined.

Ambivalence towards Obama isn't a Gaza phenomenon, though. For months in Cairo, I have seen a decrease in the excitement most people expressed towards Obama. Egyptians are coming to terms with the fact that the U.S. doesn't change on a dime and that even a new administration may take time to reshape its foreign policy.

It's unclear to me whether Palestinians would have been interested in America's democratic process had the winds of war not blown. It is clear to me, though, that as I sit here in a freezing apartment, a stone's throw from the Mediterranean, watching Barack Obama deliver his inaugural address, Palestinians around Gaza are busier helping friends and neighbors dig out from the war than reveling in America's historic chapter.

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