Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Ramadan in Gaza, Where Wounds Run Deep

Ramadan in Gaza typically imbued with spiritual significance is marred by war, famine, and disease for Gazans this year.

Ramadan in Gaza
Palestinians walk through the ruins of al-Farouq Mosque, destroyed by Israeli bombardment in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip. Mohammed Abed / AFP

Dana Hourany

Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting celebrated by Muslims worldwide, began on March 11th or 12th, depending on the nation of the new moon sighting.

This year, the month typically imbued with spiritual significance is marred by war, famine, and disease for people in Gaza.

For over five months, Israel has waged a disastrous war on the besieged strip, killing over 30,000 people, many of whom remain buried beneath the rubble. Gazans have endured the horrors of massacres, disease, starvation, hunger and thirst, perpetrated by the Israeli armed forces.

Traditionally, Muslims worldwide engage in acts of worship, charity, and fasting from dawn till dusk, culminating in nightly iftars during the holy month.

Despite the atrocities, many Gazans have adhered to these customs with what little they have. The current circumstances have drastically altered the landscape. War has left families without homes, livelihoods, and access to necessities.

“We wish there were a rewind or stop button, allowing us to experience Ramadan as we did in the past,” Dr. Wesam Amer, dean of Gaza University’s Faculty of Communication and Languages, told Fanack.

“We now look at old photos to remember our loved ones, and the memories once shared,” Amer, who fled the enclave in November, adds.

Amer and his family are currently in Germany, but miss celebrating Ramadan in Gaza, where joy, festivities, and social cohesion triumphed over the region’s long standing political and economic challenges.

“Gaza is truly beautiful. Every celebration was a joyous occasion. We long for the chance to return,” Amer said.

A World of Memories: Football and Protests

Football has always been the preferred pastime for the children of the strip, even prior to Israel’s withdrawal and dismantling of its settlements in September 2005.

Each neighborhood boasted its own team, sparking local competitions. Sometimes, these matches morphed into protests against the Israeli forces, with children throwing rocks at heavily armed soldiers.

“In recent years, decorations started to fill the streets of Gaza, and football matches became more popular,” Amer reminisced.

Homes and streets were adorned with lanterns and traditional Ramadan ornaments. Kitchen pantries were brimming with jars of mounneh, hummus and pickled vegetables.

“A day ahead of the announcement of the start of the holy month, children would gather in groups, drumming loudly, making the festivities visible,” Amer said.

Gazan writer Yousef al-Jamal recalls his early Ramadan memories, when playing with fireworks and making homemade lanterns out of empty powdered milk cans were typical.

“Some families would start Ramadan with mloukhieh (mallow stew) as the first meal in place of fattoush (traditional salad), as its deep green color symbolizes good fortune,” al-Jamal told Fanack.

According to both Amer and al-Jamal, makloubeh (a classic Palestinian rice dish that is flipped upside down), sambusek (triangular pastries filled with meat or cheese), and stuffed vegetables like vine leaves and zucchinis were staple iftar dishes.

“Every city had its own center area where people gathered to spend their time together,” Amer said. “Markets bustled as families headed to buy essentials and new clothes.”

“Children were visibly happy, as were their families, despite the harsh realities. They had each other, their homes, and eid,” al-Jamal added.

Believers engaged in taraweeh prayers before partaking in their pre-dawn suhoor, or the last meal before the day’s fast begins.

“We generally ate dairy goods, much like a traditional breakfast, occasionally alternating with fries or other meals that were available,” al-Jamal said.

In the years following the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, the enclave witnessed a growth in investment in the service industry, with more cafes and restaurants opening up, providing people with more places to socialize, particularly during Ramadan for iftar and evening gatherings.

Amer attributes this growth to the younger generation who were attempting to create better spaces for themselves, against all odds and despite the siege.

“There was palpable hope and more places to visit,” he remarked. “Sadly, it is all destroyed now.”

Ramadan this Year… a Disaster Unfolds

The health ministry in Gaza, cited by a recent United Nations report, has confirmed the tragic deaths of 25 individuals due to malnutrition and dehydration, the majority of whom were children. One in four people, or at least 576,000, is close to famine, the report, published on 14 March, added.

Delivering essential aid, particularly to northern Gaza, has proven to be a significant challenge, the UN warned. Across the entire territory, the scarcity of resources has been exacerbated, amplifying the hardships faced by the population during the holy month.

In the city of Rafah, sheltering 1.5 million displaced individuals in Gaza’s south, the traditional iftar meal, which typically marks the end of the daily fast, has been replaced by rations of canned food and beans, Amer told Fanack.

“People are also depending on communal kitchens, where individuals cook and distribute meals to those in need,” he said. “This practice existed before the war but has now become essential.”

While some people still extend invitations to neighbors or family members to alleviate the war’s sorrow, it can be heart-wrenching for others as it serves as a painful reminder of the death of loved ones, according to al-Jamal.

The north of Gaza is facing severe food shortages and the south, particularly Rafah, is seeing scarcities rise amid soaring prices.

Simple dishes, such as vermicelli pasta mixed with rice and flavored water, potatoes, cucumbers, and canned meat have replaced mloukhieh and makloubeh. A dollop of labneh (sour cream) is now suhoor. Generous meals boasting colorful dishes and sweets, have become a thing of the past.

Despite the devastation, some individuals still observe taraweeh prayers amid the rubble of mosques, while children craft lanterns from paper and play with whatever fireworks they can find.

“Many of Gaza’s once bustling markets and neighborhoods now lie in ruins, destroyed and abandoned,” Amer said. “People are forced to flock into whatever neighborhoods are still standing in search of food and a way to pass the time.”

In the Jabalia refugee camp, a poignant comparison is drawn between the vibrant Ramadan market of 2023, and 2024. Once colorful streets are now gray and desolate.

Doing the Best to Survive

Noor Ashour, originally from north Gaza, lamented the stark contrast. The law student and social media activist who was displaced to Rafah said, “We are not in a celebratory mood, because everything we once did is now impossible.”

Reflecting on days before the war, Ashour reminisced, “it was undoubtedly more beautiful. On the first day, our homes were bustling with relatives during iftar. We prayed together, shared meals together, and were just there for one another.”

“Our current iftar meals consist mainly of canned beans and peas, which are available in the south. As for families in the north, finding food for iftar or suhoor is rare. If they do find anything, it’s usually thyme or wild herbs they forage,” she said.

Despite the challenges, Ashour emphasized that they fast because of their strong relationship with God.

“We fast even in the worst of circumstances, even if we don’t find anything to eat, because we have a steadfast belief. Ramadan is important to us; it’s the month of goodness and victory, God willing,” she said.

“But I do miss gathering with my family. I miss my home, I miss my neighbors, and I miss the smell of Ramadan in previous years. I miss everything that reminds me of what it was like to be myself.”

Life Imitating Ramadan

In recent days, a video featuring people purporting to enjoy suhoor in a Rafah tent adorned in Ramadan decorations has recently gone viral, sparking outrage. Critics argue that it is a misrepresentation of the reality in Gaza, an imitation of life of sorts.

“These images are far from representative of the realities at hand; they are just an attempt to normalize the situation. A single tent among thousands of others, boasting colors and decorations is not an indication of resilience. No one is happy with the situation we have reached,” Ashour said.

Despite a ceasefire resolution during Ramadan, the deal has yet to materialize. This means that the people of Gaza will continue to face starvation, death, and destruction. Creating video content as a means to express gratitude to countries airdropping food is just one way to alleviate the impending famine.

“It is never the wish of Gazans to be portrayed as poor and in need of charity, but many are being compelled to do so in the face of adversity. No one wants to be aid-dependent, especially on countries that seem incapable of offering substantial assistance,” Amer said.

“Gazans are deeply upset with Muslim countries, particularly those who champion humanitarian causes. So much so that they have given up hope,” al-Jamal added.

“We are deeply wounded,” Ashour told Fanack, “but, we will prevail whether with their assistance or not.”

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