A bankrupt Ramadan in Gaza

A Palestinian man sells dates in preparation for Islam’s holy month of Ramadan in Gaza City, September 2007. (Wissam Nassar/MaanImages)

The situation is desperate here in Gaza, the coastal strip that is abundant with nothing except human beings.

Just a couple of hours before Iftaar, the time of day after sunset when Muslims break their fast during the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims around the globe shop to prepare. Gaza’s crowded Khan Younis is no exception.

However, though they may be thronged with people, Gaza’s markets are lacking any holiday festivity or commerce. In the middle of Khan Younis’ Jalal Street, shopkeeper Ahmad al-Agha idly sat in silence, playing with his mobile phone.

“There is no business at all; people are just buying food and drink only. As you see, few people come to purchase anything in my shop, while the majority of them seem to be biding their time before the Iftaar time is due.”

People in the street echoed Ahmad’s words, dismayed over their inability to cope with this year’s Ramadan as the economic siege on Gaza has resulted in high prices and very low incomes.

“The situation is so miserable. There are many stands, but the prices of goods are so high we cannot buy all we need during Ramadan when there are a lot of things that need to be bought,” Sami Abu Taha, a Khan Younis resident, explained.

Jehad Ashour, also from Khan Younis, said, “When my family needs four different things, I can only afford one thing because of my financial situation.”

“I do blame President Mahmoud Abbas for his inaction towards improving our living conditions and by letting many others play with our destiny. As local residents, we have nothing to do with politics.”

The same reaction was voiced by Qassem al-Astal, from the same city, who expressed his dissatisfaction with the status quo in Gaza. He too points a finger at Abbas.

“I blame the Ramallah government for the failing conditions; President Abbas could do nothing to lift the Israeli siege. You know, I am neither a Hamas nor a Fatah supporter.”

In the central Gaza Strip town of al-Nusierat, the scene was no different from that in Khan Younis. Al-Nuseirat is the largest central Gaza Strip area, where trade is relatively large.

Naser Ezzat, owner of a roasted chicken restaurant, was sitting with a few others in front of his shop, while his stove was still full of chickens but his restaurant empty of customers.

Nasser sighed, “Let me tell you that the situation is shit. You see, so far, no single chicken has been sold. I do blame the Abu Mazen’s government [President Abbas’s government in Ramallah], whose inaction has led us to such a situation.”

“The only days I sell my goods are the first two days of the payment of [governmental] salaries, when [money is] flowing into the people’s pockets,” Nasser added.

Right in the middle of al-Nusierat’s market, there is a big sweets shop. Under normal circumstances it would do brisk business during Ramadan, as during the special month people like to enjoy sweets after the Iftaar.

Emad Mattar, the owner of the shop, welcomed his journalist visitors despite his gloomy face. Despite its big plates of tempting sweets, the shop was devoid of customers.

“Believe me, people just browse my shop without buying; they just while away their time before Iftaar. In past Ramadans, we used to sell well, but this year, I can hardly sell 10 kilograms a day. It is a really catastrophic situation.”

By the time I left the sweets shop, I was increasingly dismayed over the situation my people are going through; however, in search of a more cheerful story, I entered a grocery in the central Gaza Strip town of Maghazi.

“High prices, shortage of many goods and a lack of customers are features of my shop nowadays. If you compare this Ramadan with other Ramadans, you won’t find any relation. It’s really miserable.”

Dismay, disappointment and despair are defining this year’s Ramadan thanks to the measures of collective punishment Israel has imposed on Gaza over the past three months. Under the guise of security, Israel has completely closed commercial and travel crossings following the Hamas-dominated government’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in June.

Gaza, which Israel only views through the lens of security rather than that of human dignity, is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with 1.4 million living in 360 square kilometers. With no natural resources and all industries paralyzed by Israel’s closures, which has also prevented laborers from accessing jobs in Israel, the population has become increasingly dependant on UN and other foreign agencies’ handouts.

The international Quartet, comprised of the US, UN, EU and Russia, has imposed a crippling economic embargo on the Hamas-dominated government since the group took power after the January 2006 parliamentary elections, effectively punishing the West Bank and Gaza’s civilian population for their democratic choice.

Rami Almeghari is currently contributor to several media outlets including the Palestine Chronicle, aljazeerah.info, IMEMC, The Electronic Intifada and Free Speech Radio News. Rami is also a former senior English translator at and editor in chief of the international press center of the Gaza-based Palestinian Information Service. He can be contacted at rami_almeghari at hotmail.com.

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