The holiday of Eid al-Ahda — the Feast of the Sacrifice — is celebrated by Muslims across the world to commemorate the prophet Abraham’s sacrifice of a sheep in the place of his son Ishmael. Palestine is no different than most countries where the holiday is observed, but with one notable exception: the Israeli occupation. While sheep are smuggled into Gaza from Egypt through underground tunnels, Palestinians in the West Bank face their own Israeli-imposed restrictions. These hardships however fail to dim the generosity, grace and sense of community that mark these three holy days of Eid.
Israeli military checkpoints limit the access of family visits to the homes of relatives and deny the exit of hundreds of Palestinians wanting to leave the West Bank to make the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. The Stop the Wall Campaign reported that 46 percent of the West Bank will be annexed to Israel once the separation wall is completed, denying farmers and villagers access to their land. More than one-third of the West Bank land is “closed” for Israeli military training and a further 31 percent is controlled by Israeli settlements, according to the UNHCR. The result is that Palestinian farmers including sheep herders are left in severe economic difficulty at a time when business should be thriving.
Despite the Israeli control over the area, the spirit and kindness of the festivities prevails even among those worst affected by the occupation. Curious to experience the true meaning of this special holiday, I visited with families and friends in Aida refugee camp in the Bethlehem district. Situated in Area C of the West Bank — where the Israeli occupation maintains total control — and almost entirely surrounded by Israel’s wall including four military watchtowers that were completed in the area in 2007, the camp’s inhabitants are constantly reminded of the reality of occupation. Yet during the holiday the camp’s narrow streets were filled with people greeting and congratulating everyone who passed by. Boys played with their new toy guns and girls walked hand-in-hand parading proudly in their colorful outfits. One family told me their dream of owning land in order to keep their own sheep. Another insisted on the importance of remembering Palestinian prisoners, often held in Israeli jails with no official charges and little opportunity to receive visits from their loved ones.
At times the festivities were burdened by a somber tone — a constant reminder of the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence — but somehow I left feeling reconnected with a more than subtle sense of hope and happiness.
All images were taken by Sanne Winderickx during the Eid al-Adha holiday in Bethlehem and the Aida refugee camp.
Sanne Winderickx is a Belgian freelance photographer currently working in Bethlehem, Palestine where she also teaches documentary filmmaking at the Lajee Center in Aida refugee camp.