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From the January 2004 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 51, No. 1)

Middle East

Happy Ramadan!

Ahmad Sub Laban, Palestine Report (independent, English-language, online), Jerusalem, Nov. 5, 2003

A Palestinian woman prays in front of an Israeli soldier at a West Bank checkpoint during Ramadan
A Palestinian woman prays in front of an Israeli soldier at a West Bank checkpoint near Bethlehem during Ramadan (Photo: Pedro Ugarte/AFP-Getty Images).
The streets of Ramallah look like a colorful painting, with all manner of merchandise spread out on either side of the streets. But the scene is deceptive. Despite the noticeable hustle and bustle, little trade is being done. “It looks like people would rather just look at the wares than buy them,” quips Abu Sami Barghouti. “Ramadan this year came without joy,” he continues, more seriously. “It is all sadness and blood. People don’t have money to buy the things they want. I don’t know who to feel more sorry for, myself or the people who don’t have the money [to buy food] to eat,” he says.

That people aren’t buying isn’t surprising. There has been a noticeable decline in people’s spending power this year. According to World Bank figures, the number of people in the West Bank and Gaza now living below the poverty line exceeds 60 percent. Majed Rabadi, from the Amari refugee camp, has been roaming the streets of Ramallah looking for work or food. He had to return home empty-handed. “I have not held a steady job for two years. My financial situation is very bad, and I can no longer buy even the most basic necessities. Now Ramadan has started, and I cannot provide for my children the way I used to before the Intifada. Then, our table was full of meat dishes. Today, we make do with vegetables and have meat once a week, if things are good.”

If poverty constitutes the worst dampener on this year’s Ramadan cheer, the continuing closures come a close second. This Ramadan has seen even stricter Israeli closures than before, with whole cities and villages isolated from each other. It means that many families have been unable to come together for the breaking of the fast, as is the custom during the month.

Ina’am Abdel Fattah is a third-year student at Birzeit University. From the way she describes it, it’s as if she comes from some remote, far-away village that is extremely difficult to reach. But there are only a few kilometers between her, in Birzeit, and her family, in Deir Abu Mashal, normally a half-hour drive away. It might as well be on the moon. This Ramadan, Abdel Fattah has not seen her family at all. “It’s very lonely, not seeing your family during Ramadan,” she says. “And there are so many in my position. It’s very sad.”

Ghassan, who lives in the vicinity of the checkpoint, approaches carrying a dish of dates in one hand and a crate of water bottles in the other. “This checkpoint will not defeat us. If the soldiers won’t allow these people to go home to break their fast, we will bring them their meals. This is a message to the soldiers that the Palestinian people cannot be defeated and a message to the people that there are those who feel with them and that they are not alone. We should not forget that this is the month of blessings,” he said.

Muslims in Palestine have also been deprived of performing prayers in the most important places of worship. Hundreds of thousands of citizens have been barred from reaching the Al-Aqsa mosque [in Jerusalem]. On the first Friday of Ramadan, residents of the West Bank and Gaza were prohibited from reaching Al-Aqsa, while security measures in Jerusalem were tightened to allow only married Muslims over the age of 45 into the compound. “Isn’t it enough what they are doing to us?” asked Samer Abu Rmeileh, as he waited at Qalandiyeh that Friday to cross into Jerusalem to perform noon prayers at Al-Aqsa. “What law deprives a citizen from worship? What right have they to bar me from reaching the house of God just because I carry a West Bank ID card?”

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