On eve of Ramadan, Gazans feel ever so worried
On the eve of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, which falls on Thursday, many Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip felt more dejected and worried owing to an unprecedented economic siege coupled with a lasting internal political crisis.
Most of Gaza's population, totaling nearly 1.5 million, said that Ramadan this year would be the worst one ever.
In Ramadan, observant Muslims fast from dawn to sunset, and then satisfy themselves with a large meal to break fast. Before Ramadan, Muslims always buy all kinds of food and sweet appetizers from dates to dried apricot juice.
Um el-Abed al-Fayoumi, a 51-year-old woman in black, sat waiting in front of Al-Salah Islamic association, one of the biggest charities in Gaza that supports poor families.
The widow of 12 children was one of the many victims of a political wrangle in mid-June between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah and rival Hamas movement.
"The salary of my policeman son was cut by Abbas," said al-Fayoumi with tears in her eyes. "Many people have shopped for food and drinks of Ramadan except us."
The geographically-divided Palestinian territories has been politically split into two parts with two government -- with Hamas controlling Gaza and Fatah holding the West Bank.
The Ramallah-based caretaker government, led by the U.S.-backed prime minister Salam Fayyad, had decided to freeze salaries of some 19,000 employees for cooperating with the deposed Hamas government while refusing to stop work upon Fayyad's orders.
Al-Fayoumi's son was one of them. Without regular income, al-Fayoumi had no choice but to turn to the Al-Salah association for some food rations to help her children.
But to al-Fayoumi's despair, the Al-Salah charity itself is facing increasing problems, such as lack of aid, because of the closure of all Gaza crossings since mid-June and recent U.S. restrictions on the association's funds.
The U.S. administration accuses Al-Salah of aiding Hamas.
Jaber Eliwa, member of Al-Salah's administrative staff, said the association now has to depend on internal donations by individuals and some foreign aid from Islamic groups.
Although Al-Salah was not among the 103 charities to be closed by the Ramallah-based government, al-Fayoumi said she believed that Fayyad would shut down any organization "which supports me" in the end.
On Aug. 27, the Ramallah-based government announced it had taken the decision to close 103 charities, alleging that they had "committed legal, financial and administrative violations."
If Fayyad did so finally, al-Fayoumi warned that she would "burn every office or facility for Fatah if the charity is closed down."
Al-Fayoumi is by no means the only victim in the Gaza Strip, which heavily depends on outside aid inflow of almost everything, from basic foodstuffs to medicine.
Thanks to an economic blockade and Israel's closure of all Gaza crossings, prices in the Strip have been soaring.
Ibraheem al-Hello, a seller of dates, said the prices of Ramadan food have increased because of the blockade. For instance, he used to sell one kilogram of Carob (Locust bean) for four Israeli Shekels (about 0.9 U.S. dollars), but now one kilo is sold for seven Shekels (about 1.6 dollars), up by some 78 percent.
"As you see, people just ask how much and continue walking after hearing the prices," al-Hello said.
Al-Hello said that he used to sell goods worth around 3,000 Shekels (701 dollars) a day before Ramadan in the last few years, but this year his daily sale ranged between 700 (163.5 dollars) and 1,000 Shekels (233.6 dollars).
More than food shortage and soaring prices, Gazans is facing another possible threat on the eve of their holy month -- a power blackout bestowed by Israel.
The Israeli government has threatened to provide only three hours of electricity for the Gaza Strip in retaliation for Palestinian rocket firing into Israel.
With the threat in their minds, Gazans put gas lamps on their Ramadan shopping list.
Bakker Younis, a 16-year-old vendor selling fluorescent for gaslamps, said he used to sell two or three lamps until two days ago when Israel threatened to cut the power. "Now I can sell more than10 pieces a day," he said.
Agencies Last Mod: 13 Eylül 2007, 09:37