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Palestinians Prepare for Ramadan as Devastation Continues

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Yasmin Obeidallah

Staff Writer

The holy month of Ramadan is traditionally a time of joy, celebration, and worship for Muslims around the world. This year, as Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank, and in the diaspora mourn the destruction and violence faced in Gaza at the hands of Israeli forces, it stands as a reminder of life before the bombardment. Ramadan, set to begin the second week of March, serves as an urgent motivator for a ceasefire in Gaza, as the death toll surpasses 30,000 people and starvation threatens much of the population. 

The looming ground invasion of the southern-most city of Rafah, where 1.4 million Palestinians are seeking sanctuary after being displaced from their homes in north and central Gaza, has heightened fears of a further humanitarian catastrophe. The Israeli military has launched air raids on Rafah, which serves as the main entry point of humanitarian aid, says Al Jazeera. The Israeli government has ordered civilians to move south toward Rafah for safety, but this ground offensive now puts hundreds of thousands at risk of death, starvation, and disease. With no regard for the disaster it poses for Gaza’s civilian population, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Israeli forces will push into Rafah “with or without a ceasefire,” and says the halting of hostilities will only delay the operation, reports The New York Times. Israeli officials have also said that the Rafah invasion could take place during Ramadan. Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, warned of the “catastrophic” consequences of continued fighting during Ramadan, saying that it will “place the entire region at the risk of an explosion,” according to The New York Times. 

Israel is intentionally starving Palestinians, according to the United Nations (UN) leading expert on the right to food, says The Guardian. Michael Fakhri said there is “no reason to intentionally block the passage of humanitarian aid…other than to deny people access to food.” Hunger, malnutrition, and disease are widespread in the Gaza Strip, where 2.2 million Palestinians are facing severe shortages of food, medicine, and other humanitarian supplies. In northern Gaza, where 300,000 people are trapped with virtually no food aid being allowed in by Israel, 16 percent of children under the age of two are acutely malnourished, according to nutrition screenings conducted in January. Intentionally starving civilians by “depriving them of objects indispensable to their survival,” including food, water, and shelter, is a war crime under the Geneva Conventions. Intentional starvation also includes the blocking or delaying of relief supplies, which Israel is systematically denying to Palestinians, according to Fakhri. 

Aid trucks and Palestinians waiting for humanitarian relief have even come under Israeli fire. More than 100 people were killed and over 700 were injured by Israeli gunfire while gathered around food aid trucks, reports CNN. While the Israeli military claims that the victims were killed by a stampede that led to people being hit by the trucks, eyewitnesses to the massacre have said that “chaos and confusion” led people to be struck by the aid trucks only after Israeli forces opened fire. In another statement, the Israeli military said that there was “an event against their forces,” who then opened fire on the Palestinians. The United Nations relief chief Martin Griffiths denounced the attack on the aid convoy in a statement, saying that “life is draining out of Gaza at terrifying speed.”

As Muslims around the world prepare for Ramadan, Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank brace for an increase in violence and deadly raids. The holy month is often a time of heightened tensions in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem, home to Al-Aqsa Mosque and Islam’s third holiest site. This year, however, Israel is restricting access to the Al-Aqsa compound for “security reasons,” reports Al Jazeera. Israel has long limited access for Palestinians living in the West Bank and has previously initiated violent raids during Ramadan, and the Israeli government has imposed extra conditions since the start of the war on Gaza. The hopes that the restrictions would be lifted temporarily for the Muslim holy month are quickly dimming. 

Israel has faced growing international pressure from its neighbors, allies, and international organizations to halt its hostilities in the Gaza Strip. While President Joe Biden and the U.S. State Department have previously offered tepid remarks about Israel’s actions in Gaza, Israel remains the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign aid, receiving nearly $4 billion a year, according to The Council on Foreign Relations. Biden has previously warned that Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza could cost international support. Still, the U.S. has voted against every cease-fire measure in the United Nations.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

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