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Gaza family uprooted by war shares somber Ramadan meal in a tent

Woman 2024-03-12, 10:21am




MUWASI, Gaza Strip, Mar 12 (AP/UNB) — It was a somber scene as Randa Baker and her family sat on the ground in their tent in southern Gaza at sunset Monday for their meal breaking their first day of fasting in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Three of her children were largely silent as Randa set down a platter of rice and potatoes and bowls of peas, a meal pieced together from charity and humanitarian aid. “What’s wrong? Eat,” Randa’s mother told the youngest child, 4-year-old Alma, who glumly picked at the plate.

Randa’s 12-year-old son, Amir, was too ill to join them; he had a stroke before the war and is incapacitated. Also absent this Ramadan was Randa’s husband: He was killed along with 31 other people in the first month of Israel’s assault in Gaza when airstrikes flattened their and their neighbors’ homes in Gaza City’s upper middle-class Rimal district.

“Ramadan this year is starvation, pain, and loss,” the 33-year-old Randa said. “People who should have been on the table with us have gone.”

For Muslims, the holy month combines self-deprivation, religious reflection and charity for the poor with festive celebrations as families break the sunrise-to-sunset fast with iftar, the evening meal.

In peaceful times, Randa would decorate her house and put together elaborate iftar meals. But like everyone else in Gaza, her life has been shattered by Israel’s massive campaign of bombardment and ground assault. Since her husband’s death, she, her children and her mother have fled the length of the territory and are now in Muwasi, a rural stretch of southern Gaza crowded with the tents of Palestinians who have fled their homes.

Israel declared war on Oct. 7, after Hamas militants attacked southern Israel, killing 1,200 and taking about 250 hostage. More than 31,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 70,000 wounded in Israel's war on Hamas since then, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Some 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced in the war, more than half of them crammed into the far south around the town of Rafah, many living in tents, schools that have been turned into shelters. With only a trickle of supplies entering the territory, hunger is rampant. Many families already live off one meal a day.

In the isolated northern Gaza, people are starving, and many resorted to eating animal feed. Some adults eat one meal a day to save whatever food they have for their children.

“We are already fasting,” said Radwan Abdel-Hai, a displaced Palestinian sheltering in Jabaliya refugee camp. “Beyond food, this year, we have no Ramadan. Each family has a martyr or an injured person.”

Islam exempts some from the requirement of fasting. Abbas Shouman, secretary-general of Al-Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars in Cairo, said people in Gaza who feel too weak because they have been undernourished for months may forgo fasting.

People who could have serious health risks if they fasted may forgo it to preserve their lives, according to Shouman. If the war ends, those who then become physically able to fast should do so, making up for the missed days, he said.

Here and there, Palestinians made an effort to keep some bits of the Ramadan spirit alive.

At a school filled with displaced people in Rafah, a singer led children in Ramadan songs. After nightfall, worshippers gathered around the wreckage of a mosque to perform taraweeh, a traditional Ramadan prayer.

Like others, Fayqa al-Shahri strung festive lights around her tents in Muwasi and gave children small lanterns, a symbol of Ramadan. She said she wanted the kids to “find some joy in the depression and psychological situation they’re in.”

But the attempts at cheer were largely lost in misery and exhaustion as Palestinians went through the daily struggle of finding food. People flocked an open-air market in Rafah to shop for the few supplies that available. Meat is almost impossible to find, vegetables and fruit are rare, and prices for everything have skyrocketed. Mainly, people are left eating canned food.

“No one is spotted with signs of joy in his eyes. All homes are sad. Every family has a martyr,” said Sabah al-Hendi, a displaced woman from the southern city of Khan Younis as she roamed the Rafah market. “There is no Ramadan atmosphere.”