Eid in Gaza: ‘People are being buried in mass graves. How can you walk into a house and say happy holidays?’

Six months of war with Israel has upended what should be a day of celebration in the Palestinian territory

Iman Abdelshafy al-Fayyad normally marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan with a feast surrounded by family and friends in Gaza.

But this year’s Eid al-Fitr is dominated by “profound sadness” as she keeps vigil over her father’s hospital bed and prays for loved ones scattered across the shattered strip.

“There isn’t anything to celebrate,” al-Fayyad, a beautician in her 40s, said from the Egyptian city of Arish, where she fled after her father was hurt in an Israeli air strike. “It’s difficult to feel anything but sorrow and grief.”

Arab and Muslim families worldwide typically mark the end of Ramadan by visiting relatives, exchanging gifts and preparing sweets such as maamoul pastries and date cookies.


But six months of war has upended what should be a day of celebration in the Palestinian territory. Attempts to mark the occasion this year are muted – where they happen at all – as people struggle to survive in a territory now reduced to rubble.

Most of the strip’s 2.3 million population have been forced from their homes, and more than 33,000 people have been killed since the start of hostilities, according to health officials in the enclave. The war was launched in response to the October 7th assault on southern Israel by the Gaza-based militant group Hamas that killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials.

Despite the sombre atmosphere, there are still those in Gaza trying to keep spirits high.

At a grassroots soup kitchen in the southern city of Rafah, Niveen Almadhoun and her all-women team of cooks spent Tuesday baking sweets to distribute to families living in tents, along with clothes they purchased with donated funds.

On Wednesday, which marks Eid and the official end of Ramadan, they planned to hand out gifts to children whose families have been left destitute by the war.

The head cook at the southern branch of a soup kitchen set up by her family, she has focused her efforts this week on trying to keep children entertained. “We’re doing activities for them, like dancing and listening to songs,” she said, adding that the aim was to provide some respite from the misery of war.

Almadhoun’s family – including her brother Hani who lives overseas and crowdfunded more than $800,000 (€745,000) for their efforts – started a small soup kitchen in northern Gaza two months ago, adding the southern outpost last month. Many of the patrons are children and the elderly.

“They’re trying to just be together,” Hani Almadhoun said of his relatives’ efforts to observe Eid amid the devastation. “Just because you’re seeing them distributing cookies doesn’t mean the war has ended.”

Famine and disease stalk Gaza, and the United Nations has said that a third of infants in the north of the territory under the age of two are already “acutely malnourished”.

“So many children have died ... my heart has been extinguished,” said Um Mousa, another of those who escaped to the Arish hospital. “We love to shower our kids and grandkids with gifts and sweets during Eid. But this year I’m just praying they stay alive to see another day.”

Instead of laughter, there is silence and despair, Um Mousa said. Instead of sweets and cakes, there is starvation. “The only thing to celebrate is that we’re still alive,” she added.

In the refugee camps around Lebanon’s capital Beirut, prayers have been centred on those in Gaza for months. Mariam Mahmoud Assad, a mother of three living in the Burj al Barajneh camp, said there might as well be no such thing as Eid this year. “People are being buried in mass graves. How can you walk into a house and say happy holidays?” she asked.

Donated clothing and funds are directed to the enclave regularly, with residents feeling the war acutely. During a recent dinner, Assad’s daughter asked her how they could eat while their people in Gaza starved.

As another Eid passes, Monther Shoblaq, who was director of Gaza’s water authority before fleeing to Egypt to escape the fighting, lamented that a day that should have been a chance to create memories was now a bitter reminder of everything he had lost.

“My wife, my children and I are in Cairo while the rest of our family’s in Gaza,” he said. “We woke up this morning with nowhere to go, and no one to visit.” – Copyright the Financial Times Limited 2024

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