Ramadan in Gaza

What it’s like to celebrate Islam’s holy month in a city under siege.

Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
Photo by THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images

GAZA — My sisters and I were supposed to be getting ready for 15 hours of fasting by waking up at 3 a.m. for suhoor, the meal eaten before dawn during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. But this Ramadan is different: We preferred to use the relatively calm hours in the middle of the night to sleep instead of eat, as the thunderous Israeli airstrikes had kept us up for most of the night.

Besides, electricity is being cut off night after night — the extremely hot weather is making sleeping difficult. The daylight hours aren’t much better: We only have eight hours a day to shower, wash our clothes, and get our work done before the power goes off again.

My life is no different from that of the other 1.8 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, who are faced with a Ramadan marked by Israeli airstrikes, and now a ground invasion, that have already claimed over 260 lives. Suhoor and iftar, eaten before the sun rises and after it sets, respectively, are supposed to be the most special parts of the day — but people here barely stop to eat, and instead check the news nonstop to keep track of where the bombardments are.

The offensive is not only making it hard for people to have their meals peacefully, but it’s also affecting the amount of food available in this besieged enclave. Commercial borders have been closed since last week, so very little is getting in. People here are always concerned about whether they will have enough flour and other essential goods — but given the constant and unpredictable bombardment, rarely want to go shopping.

On Thursday, July 17, Israel and Hamas agreed to a five-hour humanitarian truce, for residents of Gaza to stock up on supplies. For a few hours, there was a rush of activity: Everyone here rushed to the ATMs to get cash and hurried to shops to buy food. But the five hours weren’t enough — hundreds of employees couldn’t get their salaries, as the lines were too long.

But even when we have everything at home, it’s hard to have an appetite while this bloodshed continues. I never move my eyes away from social media and the television. Twitter has an immediacy that is unmatched — though most of the news filling my timeline recently has been horrifying. On Wednesday, I tweeted that Israel had struck the beach in Gaza City — and my friend, Najla, replied "and they killed four children." That was how I learned of the killing of the four boys, all from the same extended family, who had been playing soccer. I hurried to see the pictures on TV, but I couldn’t continue watching — the images were too awful.

This is not the first time Gaza residents have lived under such horrible circumstances — yet every time a war breaks out, it forms new memories in people’s minds. For the last two wars, in 2008 and 2012, war became connected to the very cold weather and how hard it was to survive a blackout and being under fire. This time, the war is connected with a religious occasion — the holy month of Ramadan. People pray at their daily prayers at the mosque that God will assist them in defeating Israel. Even the Palestinian leaders’ speeches include lines about how great it is to be fighting the enemy at such a time, and that God will support them to the end.

Residents of Gaza have done everything possible to flee the nonstop violence. In the last two days, more than 16,000 residents of the southern city of Beit Lahia had to flee to the U.N. Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) schools in Gaza City to use them as shelters, after the Israel Defense Forces distributed leaflets saying that they should evacuate their houses for "their safety."

There is a grim repetitiveness to all this misery. This is the third time Israel has waged the same war for the same alleged purposes — stopping the rocket fire from Gaza and destroying the infrastructure of Hamas. But these goals are never achieved: Instead of stopping the rockets, they now reach farther than ever before — this time, even to the northern Israeli city of Haifa.

My 6-year-old nephew, Bashar, told me that he thinks Israelis are crazy. After an airstrike hit a cemetery, he asked me innocently, "Have they meant to kill the dead again, aunt?" I have no words to explain.

People here believe that the rocket fire from Gaza can’t stop as long as Israel is collectively punishing besieged people. The borders should be open, raw materials should be let in, and thousands of employees should get their salaries. Otherwise, the angry Palestinians in Gaza won’t let people around them sleep in peace while they slowly die.

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