Siege puts holiday tradition beyond reach of many Gaza families

Palestinians trade livestock in Gaza City ahead of the Eid al-Adha holiday.

Ashraf Amra APA images

Imad Affana looked out on his livestock yard. At this time of year, when Muslims all over the world are celebrating Eid al-Adha, the holiday marking the end of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, it ought to have been full of people buying sheep or goats for the traditional sacrifice.

But there were few customers — even at Affana’s Beit Hanoun farm in the northern Gaza Strip, the largest trader in the territory.

According to Affana, this year has been the worst ever. “Since early morning, I have only sold one animal,” he told The Electronic Intifada.

“In previous years, we used to sell about fifty to sixty animals a day.”

In Muslim tradition, those who are able to afford it, slaughter an animal symbolizing the sacrifice made by the prophet Abraham.

By tradition, those who are better off distribute meat to those less able to afford it.

In previous years, Affana said, his stock would sell out to individuals as well as local and international charities who would buy animals, slaughter them and distribute meat to needy families over the four-day holiday.

Muhammad al-Kafarna, a 35-year-old Palestinian Authority employee and father of six from Beit Hanoun, was at the Affana farm looking to buy a sheep.

“I am looking for one that is quite cheap,” he said, explaining that this would be the second year he would pay for the animal in monthly installments as he couldn’t afford to buy it outright.

But even that option is not feasible for everyone.

Soaring prices

Abdelhafiz Abu Salem, 40, sat at his home in the the Abraj al-Nada neighborhood in northern Gaza a few days before Eid.

His youngest son, Fajjer, sat nearby looking at images of livestock on the Internet. Fajjer and his five siblings looked forward to the holiday.

“This is a very special occasion for us all, especially for the children,” Abu Salem said, “but my salary cannot meet this.”

“In the past three months, we had the holy month of Ramadan and then the start of the new school year and those occasions were very costly.”

“Prices of goods here have soared with the shutdown of underground tunnels,” Abu Salem explained. “Can you imagine, the price for one kilogram of tomatoes is about $1.80? Therefore I cannot afford a sheep, unfortunately.”

Abu Salem, also a government employee, said that his meager monthly salary could not stretch to cover the $300 price of a sheep.

The dire economic conditions in Gaza have worsened over the past three months, since Egypt’s destruction of almost all the trade tunnels under its border with Gaza. This move followed the 3 July overthrow of President Muhammad Morsi.

This has led to shortages of basic goods and a spike in prices.

Local media reports this week suggested that the Hamas-led government would pay partial salaries to some 50,000 civil and military employees ahead of the holiday.

Local and international agencies put Gaza’s unemployment rate at over 32 percent, and four out of five of the territory’s 1.7 million people are reliant on food aid from UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees.

Animals arrive through Israel

Imad Affana, who is a co-owner of the Affana company, said that his imports had not been affected by the closure of the tunnels.

Affana said that his company imports about 50,000 head of livestock annually and that it had not seen a dip, except in 2007-08 when Israel first imposed its siege.

The animals arrive through Israeli seaports, since Gaza ports are under an Israeli maritime blockade. “We now have a stockpile of 30,000 head in the Israeli port of Eilat,” Affana said.

“What we have in the market is quite enough for local needs,” Tahsin al-Saqa, head of the marketing department at the Ministry of Agriculture in Gaza City, told The Electronic Intifada.

“For the past two years we have banned the import of livestock through the underground tunnels because of the spread of some diseases.”

Yet, al-Saqa estimated that animals — sometimes at a rate of up to 700 per week — continued to come through the tunnels despite the ban.

Al-Saqa said that Israel began allowing some 2,000 head of livestock to enter Gaza daily through its commercial crossings.

The official explained that Gaza has more than twenty cattle traders, and prices are set by the government. One kilogram of calf meat, for example sells for between five and seven dollars.

Al-Saqa said that imports had been rising, as Gaza is unable to meet its own demand for meat. He expressed the hope that Gaza could use some of its available land to raise more livestock and reduce its reliance on imports.

For now, there are plenty of animals in Gaza. The problem is that there are not enough people able to buy them.

“I ask God to forgive me for not being able to perform the sacrifice ritual,” Abdelhafiz Abu Salem said.

Rami Almeghari is a journalist and university lecturer based in the Gaza Strip.

Editor’s note: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article rendered the name of the  Abraj al-Nada neighborhood incorrectly.