Under the Missilefire: Celebrating Eid in Gaza

Eid-al Adha began in Gaza at sundown. For those of you not familiar with Eid, it’s the Festival of Sacrifice, and marks the end of the Hajj, the pilgrimage that all able-bodied Muslims should make once in their lifetimes. It’s one of the two most important holidays for Muslims, sort of akin to Christmas for Christians. Since everything would be closed tomorrow, we head to Gaza’s Old City to buy some vegetables.

I was excited to see what Eid was like in Gaza. The last Eid-al Adha I spent in Palestine was in February 2003 in the northern West Bank city of Tulkarem.  At that time, Tulkarem had taken on an air that reminded me of Christmas back in the states, with families out buying presents for loved ones—until the Israeli army entered firing teargas as moms and kids ran to get away from the noxious fumes.

When we arrived to the Old City, the streets were packed with people seemingly there for some last-minute shopping.  The tradition here is to give family members gifts of clothes and candy. Though we walked through narrow streets lined small stalls, it became apparent few people actually appeared to be buying anything.  I first stopped off for a smoothie or a “cocktail” as they call it here. We were the only customers.  We then walked around the stalls filled with candies wrapped in colorful foil. No customers.  Then it was off to buy vegetables, but I got distracted by some deep-fried sweets I hadn’t eaten in 8 years. The sunset and we were the only customers. A bag of crispy dough drenched in sugar syrup cost 1 Israeli shekel ($.25).  A Welsh friend bought a bag, and I bought some larger crescent-shaped ones stuffed with walnuts.

Then, it was on to the vegetables!  We slid past the hordes, but again no one seemed to be buying. A very eager child asked me what I wanted.

“Filfil!” I blurted out. Bellpeppers.

He led me past the onions and carrots towards a pile of yellow and green peppers and thenstarted tossing them into a plastic bag, thinking that I had wanted a kilo, though  I had only asked for the price per kilo. He was so damn cute I bought the full kilo.

I started to eat my sweet as I walked back down to the main square, but then I stopped, feeling bad.  There’s definitely stuff available to buy in Gaza.  Food and goods are clearly making it through the tunnels—at a steep markup.  But nearly 40% of the population is unemployed, with little hope of finding employment.  Though Israel claims that it imposes its blockade of Gaza for security, Israel prevents all goods from leaving Gaza.  Gaza’s real per capita GDP in 2011 is 35% below it’s per capita GDP in 1993.  I’m curious to know how Israel’s strangulation of Gaza serves Israel’s security.

Anyway, upon returning home, I learned that Israel fired on Palestinians in East Gaza  City earlier today without warning, as farmers worked their land.  Apparently, the people were confused as to why the Israelis were shooting at them–something I could definitely relate to. One person was injured.  Since then, Israeli helicopters have been shelling Khan Yunis, in the south.

Doesn’t leave a lot to celebrate.

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