Gaza City, Asharq Al-Awsat—Civilian casualties of the latest Israeli offensive in Gaza passed the grim milestone of 1,000 fatalities last week, making this year’s Eid Al-Fitr a bleak one for the territory’s inhabitants, who continue to suffer under the assault of one of the world’s most powerful militaries.
Asharq Al-Awsat spoke to some of Gaza’s residents about their experience of the religious holiday amid the violence, terror, and chaos of war.
Umm Ayman Al-Razaynah is the mother of four young men killed in recent years by Israeli forces, the last of them in an airstrike on the ninth day of the current offensive.
She says that on the morning of the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, which immediately follows the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, she strode to the graveyard adjacent to Beit Lahia, filled with grief at the death of her four sons, who are buried in cemeteries across northern Gaza.
She was unable to visit their tombs in the Martyrs’ Graveyard in eastern Jabalia City because Israeli forces have been pushing into the area since the start of the ground offensive against Gaza. But she managed to visit the grave of her son Hussam, who she told Asharq Al-Awsat was 37 when he, together with a group of other Gazans, was killed in Jabalia on July 16.
Unlike previous Eid festivals, other Palestinian families who have lost children seized the opportunity on the first day of Eid Al-Fitr to visit the cemeteries. Other families went back to their destroyed homes, while others just stayed indoors with their children, out of fear of more bombing.
Many of Gaza’s children tried to go out on the street during the lull in the fighting on Monday, but were brought back inside after fresh clashes killed a number of children. One four-year-old boy was reportedly killed in Jabalia while playing in the street, hit by an artillery shell which killed him instantly and wounded several other children.
Umm Ayman told Asharq Al-Awsat that she could not stay at home because she was haunted by the memory of her lost sons. She said that whenever she looked at her grandchildren, she would begin to grieve, but quickly added: “My sons are martyrs and they have passed away to their God. This is their destiny.”
In 1996, her eldest son, Ayman, was killed by the Israeli forces. Her second son, Othman, was killed taking part in an attack on the Israeli settlement of Eli Sinai in the northern part of the Gaza Strip in 2002. Her third son, Mohammed, lost his life in an Israeli airstrike before her fourth son was killed in the current war on Gaza.
Speaking about the atmosphere of Eid Al-Fitr, Umm Ayman, wiping away tears, said: “My heart no longer has a space for happiness. Everything inside us has been killed. But they have not killed our love for our children who were martyred and for their children who remind us of them. Their children cannot find anyone but us to celebrate the Eid festival with. They break our hearts when one of them asks: ‘Where is our father?’ We reply: ‘He is in Paradise, darling. We, too, will catch up with him.’”
She said that she did not previously visit graveyards on Eid, but that she had decided to visit the one containing her son Hussam’s grave because she did not see his body when he was buried. Nor did she know precisely where he was buried because the bombing prevented her from attending his funeral.
Some families arrived in the Shejaia district to spend the first day of Eid Al-Fitr sitting on the debris of their destroyed homes. Abdul Rahman Al-Mughni, a resident of the district, told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Our Eid is the day when our houses return to how they were. We have no Eid. All Gaza, from north to south, is sad. There is not a family that is not in sadness, distress and grief over the loss of a martyr, a wounded person, or the destruction of their homes.”
He added: “For decades, the residents of the Gaza Strip and all Palestine have never seen an Eid festival like this one. This is an Eid of real bloodshed, an Eid of killing; the killing of our children, women and sons who were dreaming of finding a job, getting married and building families like other human beings around the world. But the occupation does not want us to live; it wants us dead. It wants to kill our children before they live their childhood, grow up and realize their dreams.”
Others found shelter where they could. Ahlam Muhaisen described this year’s festival as a “black Eid.” She said: “For seven days, I and my family have not found a place to shelter us. We went to schools, but they were full of people. We went to hospitals, but some of them came under fire. Finally, we found the garden of the Al-Shifa Hospital to take a shelter in. There is nowhere to go. This is not Eid; this is destruction that has befallen us.”
For the Palestinians of Gaza, the focus on those killed in the fighting is a relatively new tradition. The overwhelming majority of the residents of the Gaza Strip used to avoid visiting tombs during Eid festivals, as is the case in more than one neighboring country. Instead, they would use the day to visit the homes of their relatives. Meanwhile, women stayed at home to receive the guests, and the streets and parks would usually be filled children going out to play.
Alaa Gahgoh told Asharq Al-Awsat that this year’s Eid was different. “There is nothing new in our lives,” he said. “The airstrikes are still going on and aircraft are flying over. We fear for ourselves and for our children, and did not leave our homes for fear of being targeted.”
He said that he could not visit his relatives who are just 3 miles (5 kilometers) away from him because he is afraid of being attacked. He added: “There is no festive atmosphere at all. Everything changed in a moment. We were expecting a beautiful Ramadan and a more beautiful Eid. We wanted to buy new clothes for ourselves and for our families, celebrate with our relatives, and take the children to the parks. But all these dreams evaporated and have become a thing of the beautiful past which the occupation has now killed.”
Despite the bleakness of their situation, some Gazans have done their best to salvage what they can of the holiday. Gahgoh’s wife said that on Monday she went to a market in the north of Gaza City to buy some toys for her children, and that they played with them on the morning of the first day of Eid outside and inside the house. A small, momentary escape from the terrible pressures of the war.