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Ramadan in the midst of war

05 April 2024

Palestinian Muslims are observing the holy month on the brink of famine, says Patrick Watt


Displaced Palestinians gather in Rafah, in southern Gaza, for their iftar, on Sunday

Displaced Palestinians gather in Rafah, in southern Gaza, for their iftar, on Sunday

THE Muslim holy month of Ramadan began on 10 March. For Muslims living in Gaza, it is a Ramadan like no other.

As my Palestinian colleague, Ahmed, who is now, thankfully, outside Gaza, but whose family remains trapped there, said: “Ramadan is a time for faith, love, and helping others, but people don’t have anything left to give.”

He speaks of the heartbreak of families, like his, who are displaced and separated — of loved ones missing, injured, or dead.

The traditional Ramadan visits of years gone by, of relatives gathering in each other’s homes of an evening, are a distant memory, when so many homes have been destroyed, most of Gaza’s people are living in temporary shelters, and countless bodies are still buried under the rubble.

Ahmed, a grandfather of seven, reflects on the pain being felt by families who have no food with which to break their fast at sunset, a key observance of the holy month.

As aid is regularly blocked, and commercial trade is heavily disrupted, food prices have rocketed: sugar is on sale for 80 shekels (£17.50), more than 25 times its pre-war cost; a kilo of meat costs 160 shekels (£35). Prices are widely expected to increase further.

In the face of desperate shortages, there are reports, as spring arrives, that people are trying to cook and eat grass and grind animal feed to make flour, even if it cannot be digested properly.

WORKING with our longstanding local partner, the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committee (PARC), Christian Aid has been able to support farmers in the north, middle, and south of Gaza in delivering vegetables and water to tens of thousands of people, often in areas that other agencies have not been able to reach. But it is, of course, nowhere near enough to meet the needs of Gaza’s 2.3 million people.

Our partners are doing all that they can — often at great personal risk — to get food, medical assistance, and other essentials to people who need it. Christian Aid supporters, who have already donated more than £2 million to our Middle East appeal, have enabled us to work with the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, who are operating mobile health clinics; with the Culture and Free Thought Association, who opened the doors of their shelters in Khan Younis to house thousands of the most vulnerable people; and St Porphyrios’s, a Greek Orthodox church in Gaza, which has been providing food, water, and blankets for those too frail to flee further south.

As the United Nations warns that famine is “almost inevitable”, the United States has resorted to aid airdrops. Yet these are impossible to co-ordinate or target, and carry their own dangers for people on the ground. They also cannot distribute aid on an equivalent scale to that provided by land. Aid drops — and President Biden’s latest announcement of a temporary port facility — are a further sign of international failure rather than resolve.

THE simple reality is that, in the absence of a lasting ceasefire, the international community cannot deliver aid on the scale required to tackle one of the world’s worst humanitarian emergencies of recent decades. And, without access to food, clean water, fuel, medicines, and proper shelter, a growing number of people — starting with infants and the elderly — will die from hunger and disease.

That is why Christian Aid has pressed for a ceasefire, the release of hostages, and progress towards a just peace, at the same time as we have delivered life-saving aid. Having worked in Gaza and the West Bank since 1952, with both Palestinian and Israeli partners, we know that this is, at its roots, a man-made crisis that no amount of humanitarian aid can fix for the long term.

Last May, I was able to spend a couple of days with Ahmed in Gaza, visiting our partners and seeing Christian Aid’s work at first hand. The people I met are now bombed out of their homes. Many have lost loved ones. That many of them have, none the less, sustained their work, supporting others, is extraordinary.

Ahmed shares that resilience and stoicism: “We hope and pray that this Ramadan will be the last we have war in Palestine, and other countries. That is the meaning of Ramadan: faith, love and just peace.” As a Christian working for an organisation that exists for people of all faiths and beliefs, I hope and pray the same.

Patrick Watt is the chief executive of Christian Aid.


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