Another Ramadan under Occupation

Every year, I feel compelled to write this article, if for no other reason than to mark the holy month of Ramadan in the holiest of lands. While I write a "Ramadan article" every year, I find myself hoping that one day, sooner rather than later, I will be able to write about the Muslim month of fasting in a liberated Palestine. Of course, I am a realist, so in the back of my mind I know this is not a goal I expect too soon. Still, I find myself hoping beyond hope that one day, all the Muslims in Palestine can travel to Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem for Ramadan prayers if they choose.

But let me pull my head of out the clouds and come back to the harsh reality that is today. I will not lie and say there is no cheer this Ramadan among many Palestinian Muslims. There certainly is. The joyous spirit is palpable in the streets of Ramallah and Jerusalem where hungry Muslims stock up on special Ramadan drinks and breads, katayef (Arabic pancakes stuffed with sweet cheese or nuts) and fruit. The alleyways of the Old City of Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter are strung from start to finish with bright colored lights, some shaped like crescents, others like lanterns. Children buy sugary sweets after the breaking of the fast at dusk and devout Muslims head to their neighborhood mosque to perform the special Ramadan prayers. Children listen eagerly for the dusk call to prayer, which signifies the end of the day’s fast while families gather for the evening meal, first eating soup to soften up their empty bellies before the main course.

So, yes, many Muslims in Palestine have completely embraced this month of reflection and abstinence both spiritually and practically. However, no Palestinian has forgotten that so much more must change before the joy is complete.

The other day, a group of devoted Palestinians in Jerusalem broke the day’s fast with a special family. On a sidewalk in the heart of the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, around 100 men, including PA and religious officials brought trays of juice, soup, rice and chicken to the Ghawi family, who were evicted by Jewish settlers from their home last month. The iftar –” courtesy of President Mahmoud Abbas’ office – was obviously symbolic, a show of support for the family who have been dealt an unimaginable injustice. It was also a reminder to us that there are those among us who need our help and solidarity when disaster strikes. The Ghawi family, along with the Hanoun family, are homeless this Ramadan and must break their fast each night with the haunting reminder that they can no longer cook a meal in their kitchen or sleep in their own beds. Instead, they can discern the silhouettes of Jewish settlers roaming the rooms of their houses without a single thought to the rightful homeowners, the families they threw out on the street.

Ramadan for others will bring another bitter reminder. This is the first Ramadan after Gaza’s destruction. Gazan families fortunate enough to still have a roof over their heads may not have enough food on the table. For those unfortunate souls who lost family members in Operation Cast Lead, this Ramadan will bring little cheer. Ramadan is a time for families to come together, nuclear and extended. Imagine the Samouni family which lost 29 members in Israel’s invasion. Their Ramadan table must be drowned in tears.

Just yesterday a 15-year old boy lost his life in the Jalazoun Refugee Camp north of Ramallah. Mohammed Nayef was killed by gunfire coming from the illegal settlement of Beit El and died hours later from his injuries. I do not know the boy, but I do know that his father, a Palestinian intelligence officer was killed seven years ago by Israeli soldiers. I also know that nothing could be harder for Mohammed’s mother and that every Ramadan from now on, she will remember the precious people Israel took away from her.

Of course, killing Palestinians is not reserved for Ramadan alone. As long as Israeli soldiers maintain the "right" to invade, shoot, arrest and occupy Palestinians and their lands, there will be no rest for the weary. And that is why, despite my skepticism, I cling to my dream of a liberated Palestine and a Ramadan without the burden of Israel’s occupying presence.