Palestinians prepare for Ramadan in the shadow of Gaza war

Palestinians prepare for Ramadan in the shadow of Gaza war
Ramadan in Palestine this year coincides with Israel's unprecedented war on the besieged Gaza Strip, and deadly Israeli raids across the occupied West Bank.
4 min read
In the ruins of Gaza, Palestinians were in a sombre mood as they prepared for Ramadan [Getty]

Palestinians prepared for Ramadan in sombre mood as Israeli police deployed in force in occupied East Jerusalem and the spectre of war and starvation in Gaza overshadowed the normally festive Muslim holy month as talks to secure a ceasefire stalled.

Thousands of Israeli police have been deployed around the narrow streets of the Old City in Jerusalem, where tens of thousands of worshippers are expected every day at the Al Aqsa mosque compound, the third holiest sites in Islam. 

Israeli police and extremists have regularly attacked Palestinian worshippers at Al-Aqsa during the holy month of Ramadan in previous years.

After some confusion last month when hard-right Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said he wanted restrictions on worshippers at Al Aqsa, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the numbers admitted would be similar to last year.

"This is our mosque and we must take care of it," said Azzam Al-Khatib, director general of the Jerusalem Waqf, the religious foundation that oversees Al Aqsa. "We must protect the presence of Muslims at this mosque, who should be able to enter in big numbers peacefully and safely."

Depending on lunar observations, Ramadan will commence Sunday evening for some Muslims, while others are expected to begin fasting on Monday.

But in contrast to previous years, the usual decorations around the Old City have not been put up and there was a similar sombre tone in towns across the occupied West Bank, where around 400 Palestinians have been killed in clashes with Israeli security forces, or extremist Jewish settlers since the start of the war.

"We decided this year that the Old City of Jerusalem won't be decorated out of respect for the blood of our children and the elders and the martyrs," said Ammar Sider, a community leader in the Old City.

Israeli police claimed they were working to ensure a peaceful Ramadan and had taken extra measures to crack down on what they described as provocative and distorted information on social media networks and had arrested 20 people suspected of incitement to terrorism.

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For the rest of the Muslim world, Israel's control of the area around Al Aqsa and its regular stormings of the site has long been among the most bitterly resented issues, and last month Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh called on Palestinians to march to the mosque at the start of Ramadan.

Jewish extremists, some of whom have close ties with far-right members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, wish to destroy or occupy the site and construct an ancient temple they claim stood on the site thousands of years ago.

Last year, a violent Israeli raid on the mosque compound drew condemnation from the Arab League as well as Saudi Arabia, with which Israel had been seeking to normalise diplomatic ties, extending its push to build ties with regional powers including the United Arab Emirates.


Ceasefire Hopes

Hopes for a ceasefire, which would have allowed Ramadan to pass peacefully and enabled the return of at least some of the 134 Israeli hostages held in Gaza appear to have been disappointed, with talks in Cairo apparently stalled.

Israel's brutal and indiscriminate campaign in Gaza has drawn increasing alarm across the world as the growing risk of famine threatens to add to a death toll that has already passed 31,000, most of them civilians.

In the ruins of Gaza itself, where half the 2.3 million population is squeezed into the southern city of Rafah, many living under plastic tents and facing a severe shortage of food, the mood was correspondingly sombre.

"We made no preparations to welcome Ramadan because we have been fasting for five months now," said Maha, a mother of five, who would normally have filled her home with decorations and stocked her refrigerator with supplies for the evening Iftar celebrations when people break their fast.

"There is no food, we only have some canned food and rice, most of the food items are being sold for imaginary high prices," she said via chat app from Rafah, where she is sheltering with her family.

In the West Bank, which has seen record Israeli violence for more than two years and a further surge since the war in Gaza, the stakes are also high, with towns like Jenin, Tulkarm or Nablus braced for further attacks.

For many of those waiting, there is little alternative but to hope for peace.

"Ramadan is a blessed month despite the fact this year is not like every year, but we are steadfast and patient, and we will welcome the month of Ramadan as usual, with decorations, songs, with prayers, fasting," said Nehad El-Jed, who was displaced with her family in Gaza.

"Next Ramadan, we wish for Gaza to come back, hopefully all the destruction and the siege in Gaza will change, and all will come back in a better condition."

(Reuters and The New Arab Staff)