Only its name remains: Eid this year in Gaza

Children in Tulkarem refugee camp, Palestine, 1 November 2005, where conditions are extremely hard. (Briony Balsom/IRIN)

The Eid ul-Fitr, typically a time of great celebration, literally means ‘the feast of the breaking of the fast;’ it marks the end of Ramadan, a month of daily fasting for Muslims. Traditionally, Eid is a joyful occasion; families and friends meet, gifts are exchanged, news clothes are bought and a great feast is eaten. The wearing of new clothes symbolizes the new beginning to which a month of fasting leads - the shedding of sins and the asking of forgiveness.

Ihab is a 32-year-old refugee from Rafah camp in the Gaza strip. The atmosphere for Eid this year, he said, is mixed. Happiness for the Eid abounds, though not enough to overcome the harsh situation facing the Gazan people.

A father of four children, Ihab said “the children have no real idea about the critical situation in which we live; they need to play and have fun during the Eid - but because of this crisis they won’t have this.” Due to the economic sanctions on the Palestinian government, Ihab, who works as an employee for the PA, has not received his salary for the last seven months; so he and his family were forced to survive on a total of 1500 NIS ($375). He is trying his best to manage the use of this allowance to meet his children’s needs for the Eid. Yet submerged by feelings of shame, because he is unable to give his children the life that they need and want, this most carefree of occasions is being shattered by the poverty in Gaza.

The market in Gaza is full of people who are wandering the streets, but hardly anything is being bought: people in Gaza cannot afford the high prices goods are being offered at. Sayeeda, a widow with 5 kids, said “there is no money and prices are extremely high.” Her only recourse is from the aid UNRWA provides and the people who give zakat (alms) during Ramadan. Sayeeda’s 10-year-old son Mustafa is very upset with her because he cannot understand why he will not have new clothes this Ramadan. Minutes before we talked to her she said that Mustafa left the house after she told him that she was not able to buy him new things this year; she asked him desperately “not to blame her.”

Despite such wide-ranging deprivation, the people of Gaza - especially the children - are determined to make this Eid an occasion to celebrate: “even if circumstances are hard we will rejoice to the maximum of our ability,” Ihab said.

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