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Randa Baker, right, and her family, who were displaced by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, end their fast on the first day of Ramadan at a makeshift tent camp in the Muwasi area, southern Gaza, on March 11, 2024. Image Credit: AP

MUWASI: It was a sombre scene as Randa Baker and her family sat on the ground in their tent in southern Gaza at sunset on Monday for their meal ending their first day of fasting in Ramadan.

Three of her children were largely silent as Baker set down a platter of rice and potatoes and bowls of peas, a meal pieced together from charity and humanitarian aid.

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“What’s wrong? Eat,” Baker’s mother told the youngest child, 4-year-old Alma, who glumly picked at the plate.

Baker’s 12-year-old son, Amir, was too ill to join them; he had a stroke before the war and is incapacitated.

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Also absent this Ramadan was Baker’s husband: He was killed along with 31 other people in the first month of Israel’s assault in Gaza when airstrikes flattened their and their neighbours’ homes in Gaza City’s upper middle-class Rimal district.

“Ramadan this year is starvation, pain, and loss,” Baker, 33, said. “People who should have been at the table with us have gone.”

For Muslims, the holy month combines self-deprivation, religious reflection and charity for the poor with festive celebrations as families end the sunrise-to-sunset fast with iftar, the evening meal.

In peaceful times, Baker would decorate her house and put together elaborate iftar meals. But like everyone else in Gaza, her life has been shattered by Israel’s massive campaign of bombardment and ground assault. Since her husband’s death, she, her children and her mother have fled the length of the territory and are now in Muwasi, a rural stretch of southern Gaza crowded with the tents of Palestinians who have fled their homes.

Israel declared war after Hamas’ October 7 attack on southern Israel in which militants killed 1,200 and took about 250 hostage.

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Image Credit: AFP

Bits of Ramadan spirit alive

More than 31,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 70,000 wounded in Israel’s war on Hamas since then, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

Some 80 per cent of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been displaced in the war, more than half of them crammed into the far south around the town of Rafah, many living in tents, schools that have been turned into shelters.

With only a trickle of supplies entering the territory, hunger is rampant. Many families already live off one meal a day.

In isolated northern Gaza, people are starving, and many have resorted to eating animal feed. Some adults eat one meal a day to save whatever food they have for their children.

“We are already fasting,” said Radwan Abdul Hai, a displaced Palestinian sheltering in the urban Jabaliya refugee camp in the north. “Beyond food, this year, we have no Ramadan. Each family has a martyr or an injured person.”

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Image Credit: AFP

Islam exempts some from the requirement of fasting. Abbas Shouman, secretary-general of Al Azhar’s Council of Senior Scholars in Cairo, said people in Gaza who feel too weak because they have been undernourished for months may forgo fasting.

People for whom fasting would pose a serious health risk must forgo it in order to preserve their lives, Shouman said. If the war ends, those who then become physically able to fast should do so, making up for the missed days, he said.

Here and there, Palestinians made an effort to keep some bits of the Ramadan spirit alive.

At a school filled with displaced people in Rafah, a singer led children in Ramadan songs. After nightfall, worshippers gathered around the wreckage of a mosque to perform taraweeh, a traditional Ramadan prayer.

Like others, Fayqa Al Shahri strung festive lights around her tents in Muwasi and gave children small lanterns, a symbol of Ramadan. She said she wanted the kids to “find some joy in the depression and psychological situation they’re in.”

But the attempts at cheer were largely lost in misery and exhaustion as Palestinians went through the daily struggle of finding food. People flocked an open-air market in Rafah to shop for the few supplies that were available. Meat is almost impossible to find, vegetables and fruit are rare, and prices for everything have skyrocketed. Mainly, people are left eating canned food.

“No one is spotted with signs of joy in his eyes. All homes are sad. Every family has a martyr,” said Sabah Al Hendi, a displaced woman from the southern city of Khan Younis, as she roamed the Rafah market. “There is no Ramadan atmosphere.”