A month of peace is it is not, for those who live in Gaza.
For Muslims all over the World, Ramadan is a month of prayer, contemplation, kindness and charity. This applies to Palestinians all over historic Palestine. Many more try to attend prayers in mosques, especially prayers unique to Ramadan, the Taraweeh. And in this Gaza is no exception, despite the blockade Israel imposed on it which is now running into its 15th year.
This tiny strip of land is home to two million Palestinians, most of whom have not left the strip on a regular basis since the siege was imposed. Their only exit point – apart from through Israel – is the Rafah crossing to Egypt, which is regularly closed for long periods. Gaza was also predicted to be an unliveable area by 2020 by UN experts.
The reality is that Gaza is in fact barely liveable with little sign that the situation will improve, unless the world pressures Israel to end the blockade. However, this is not the end of the suffering. Israel regularly resorts to force to remind the Palestinians that while it claims to have its ended its occupation in 2005, it claims the skies in addition to the land and sea along the strip.
Ramadan does not necessarily bring reprieve to Gaza, as the world witnessed a few days ago. Ramadan 2021 began on April 13 with a mini uprising in Jerusalem, which brought rockets from Gaza as an apparent signal of solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem.
While there was some debate amongst Palestinians about whether that form of support was appropriate, Israel responded with force. It claimed to have targeted ‘Hamas military sites’ training camps, though it is not clear what that means.
However, that response was not the first time Israel had hit Gaza in the holy month. This was a noisy violent bombardment, which if experienced by any other people would be a most terrifying experience. The constant noise of drones over the skies of Gaza and the sudden booms would terrify adults in other circumstances, let alone children.
While Israel can hit Gaza at will, it has form in targeting Gaza during Ramadan. In 2019, the first day of Ramadan brought grim scenes of Palestinians in Gaza burying 21 of their relatives after earlier bombardment by Israel.
In 2018, the Great March of Return brought thousands of Palestinians to the fence that separated Palestinian refugees in Gaza from the return they still crave to the homes they and their families were expelled from in 1948. Israeli snipers that had been targeting them at will since the start of the March were in no mood to preserve the sanctity of the life of people fasting but also demonstrating for their return. They continued shooting and killing. The dead included young Palestinian medic Razan Al-Najjar, killed while tending to the injured at the fence. She had left home in the morning looking forward to an iftar meal which she had asked her mother to cook. She never had that meal.
More Palestinians would die in Ramadan. The last Friday of Ramadan saw four more Palestinians die and 600 injuries. Another deadly Ramadan month.
In 2014, Israel’s war on Gaza was at its height in Ramadan and during Eid ul Fitr. Palestinian Christians welcomed Muslims with open arms and opened their churches for them to pray in safety as they feared mosques would be targeted by Israel as they had been since the start of the war, as Israel claimed they were used for weapons storage. The 53-day long war was extremely costly to Palestinians in Gaza, resulting in some 2,200 deaths, over 10,000 injured and the destruction of more than 10,000 homes and damage to tens of thousands.
It seems then that Israel is ambivalent about whether it attacks Gaza in Ramadan or at any other time. The latest attack on the third day of Ramadan was followed with the temporary closure of the fishing zone. What role could the fishermen or other civilians have played that could merit this attack and closure in the month of Ramadan?
The fact is that not only does Israel not respect the sanctity of Ramadan in Gaza, it also attack worshippers in Jerusalem. Israel started the holy month by restricting access for Muslims to Al Aqsa mosque, while allowing access to Jewish Israeli settlers. This, together with the setting up of barriers at the Damascus Gate steps, infuriated Palestinians simply trying to observe Ramadan prayers and to access Al Aqsa unimpeded.
To add fuel to the fire, Jewish Israeli settlers attacked Palestinians shouting ‘death to the Arabs’. Palestinians stood up to the settlers and the security forces and through their resistance forced the removal of the barriers.
Israel’s lack of respect for religious observance did not end with attacks on Muslims. Israeli security forces attacked Christian Palestinians trying to access and pray at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Whether it was Muslims wanting to pray at Al Aqsa mosque during Ramadan or Christians wanting to celebrate Easter at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, or Palestinians in Gaza just trying to sleep, Israel wanted to remind the Palestinians of who holds a monopoly on violence.
While every Ramadan and Easter brings challenges to Palestinians trying to access their holy sites in Jerusalem, it is nothing like being bombed or shot by Israeli forces in Gaza. Israel’s claim that it has respect for all religions appears to stop at Palestinians trying to access their holy sites while Jewish Israelis do not face any challenges accessing the sites.
Israel’s cruelty leaves Gaza on tenterhooks every Ramadan wondering whether or when the drone flights will intensify, meaning there is no peace for them in the month of peace.
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