'I remember our Ramadan gatherings and cry': Gaza's tragedy in the holy month

With families separated or grieving over lost loved ones, Gaza's surviving residents mournfully remember happier Ramadan celebrations

A Palestinian boy stands among the rubble of a destroyed house following an Israeli air strike, in Deir Al Balah, southern Gaza Strip. EPA
Powered by automated translation

Live updates: Follow the latest news on Israel-Gaza

Palestinians in Gaza say this Ramadan is shaping up to be the worst in living memory, and many fear they will not survive the holy month because of war.

Others wonder how they can possibly eat iftar meals amid famine-like conditions.

Where the streets were once full of colour, the devastation in Gaza - more than half of the strip’s roughly 400,000 buildings have been struck by bombs, according to the UN - means grey and white dust and smoke add to the sombre atmosphere.

Instead of the noise of bustling markets as people buy groceries and songs welcoming Ramadan, the thud of explosions and artillery pierces the air, racking the nerves of Gazans, many of whom have lost their homes.

Every time I remember our family gatherings in Ramadan and how they will be absent this year, it chokes me up and I wish that what we are going through is just a dream and it will end
Musa Al Shami, 48, Gaza resident

About 31,000 have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its offensive in the enclave, after Hamas-led militants attacked the south of Israel and killed more than 1,200.

Some Palestinians are clinging to the hope that a ceasefire for the holy month is still possible despite stalled negotiations for a truce.

Ramadan is expected to begin on Monday.

Musa Al Shami, 48, will spend the holy month with his two sons in one of the UN schools in Jabalia camp, north of the Gaza Strip. His wife and other five children are displaced in the south of the enclave.

“Ramadan is approaching this year and we are scattered, each one in a different place,” Mr Al Shami told The National.

His home in Sheikh Zayed city, in northern Gaza, was destroyed.

“We will miss the family gatherings and the lovely atmosphere that we gotten used to in previous years,” Mr Al Shami added.

He said they used to lovingly decorate the house in previous years and buy special lanterns for his daughter and young son, who used to hold and play with them joyfully.

At the beginning of the war, he decided to send his wife and young children to the south with his relatives, while his older sons stayed with him because they were afraid Israeli soldiers might arrest them at a checkpoint.

He thought they would return within a month, never imagining his family would stay away for this long and that Ramadan would come while the war continued to rage.

“Every time I remember our family gatherings in Ramadan and how they will be absent this year, it chokes me up and I wish that what we are going through is just a dream and it will end.”

Islam Ibrahim, 38, cannot help but cry each time she remembers that Ramadan is approaching, amid the war.

She refuses to leave the devastated Gaza City for the south because she wants to stay with her father, who insists on not leaving his home.

He fears a repeat of what happened in 1948, when about 750,000 Palestinians were displaced and ultimately expelled from their lands by Israeli forces.

"Ramadan is a holy month, and we love it, but we also love the family gatherings and visits," Ms Ibrahim told The National.

Ms Ibrahim said that she used to visit her uncle's homes, but now she can’t. Her uncles’ homes were neither destroyed nor burned; both died in the massive Israeli assault on the enclave.

Her only married sister will not come to join them for the first Ramadan meal, as usual, because she is in the south of the Gaza Strip, and her close friends will not come to visit because they have left Gaza.

"I feel like a stranger in my city. The people around me are not the same people I used to know. The war has changed us from within, and the streets I used to walk on are not the same because they are destroyed," she added.

“This will be the most difficult Ramadan we will experience, as we are living in the midst of a famine with no food or drink,” Ms Ibrahim continued

Umm Khaleel Othman, 55, from Gaza City sits in a tent in Rafah, in the south of the Strip, recounting in heartbreaking words how she used to decorate her home at Ramadan, which is now burnt.

"I used to gather all my sons, daughters, and their families to end the fast of the first day in my house, but this Ramadan is very difficult. It has changed our habits and deprived us of simple rights," she told The National.

Umm Khaleel used to decorate her house with her grandsons’ help, but now there will be no decorations or any other Ramadan traditions.

Both of her grandsons were evacuated from the Strip, an arduous, risky and expensive trip for those who can get out.

“My two sons left Gaza with their families, and one daughter is still in Gaza. The other is with me here in the same tent; my heart cannot bear this sorrow.”

Umm Khaleel cannot imagine that her daughter, who is still in Gaza with her family, will not come on the first day to eat with her.

"I am worried about my daughter and what she will eat. She now only eats rice, but it is Ramadan. How will she keep eating rice every day?" she added.

She still has the hope that an extended truce will take effect before Ramadan begins, so she can go back to the north and be reunited with her daughter, after more than 100 days.

Updated: March 10, 2024, 4:20 AM