Gaza Celebrates Eid al-Fitr Amid Economic Crisis

By: Asmaa al-Ghoul for Al-Monitor Palestine Pulse

Eid al-Fitr, an opportunity to celebrate, buy new clothes, visit relatives and eat home-made sweets has arrived in the Gaza Strip, after a month of fasting during Ramadan.

The feast’s first day starts by breaking the fast with smoked or salted herring. Then come the family visits and a glut of ka’ak — a type of bread similar to bagels — stuffed with dried dates.

On Fahmy Bek Street, in the old marketplace, Mohammed Zaytouniyya, 24, sells salted fish on a table in front of him. He tells Al-Monitor that he salts and stores the fish three weeks to a month before the feast and starts selling them as the feast approaches. He says that, with the help of his brothers, he has produced 300 kilograms [661 pounds] of salted fish.

Not all families eat salted fish on the morning of the feast. Some prefer smoked herring. Because of the closure of the crossings, Israeli herring cannot be found — which traders consider better than Egyptian herring. There was a shortage of the latter after traders had bought and stored them.

The children receive aidiyya (money), an Eid al-Fitr tradition, from visiting relatives. The kids gather around the guests and wait for their aidiyya. They use it to buy simple toys, which are widely available in small shops around this time.

Women also receive aidiyya from the men of the family, regardless of their age or employment status.

In the early morning hours during the last week of Ramadan, it gets very crowded in Omar al-Mokhtar Street. Many families are out buying new clothes for Eid. This is a rare scene in Gaza, where stores usually close before 10:00 p.m.

Clothing, ka’ak, fish and aidiyya all cost money, and the extra expenditure comes at a time when Gaza is suffering from the closure of the border crossings and tunnels, the shuttering of dozens of factories and rising unemployment, since the beginning of the Egyptian crisis about a month and a half ago.

Hani Fawzi, 34, the owner of a clothing store complains about the lack of sales even though the streets are packed with families. Most just look and do not buy. He tells Al-Monitor that most clothes sales are to Palestinian Authority (PA) employees in Ramallah and United Nations Relief and Works Agency staff. He ads that most owners of clothing stores are wanted for financial issues. They borrowed money to buy large quantities of clothes made in China that they hoped to pay for from holiday season sales, but are now unable to.

Abu Salem, 56, and Umm Salem, 41, buy from the same store for their family. They complain about the high prices. Abu Salem tells Al-Monitor that he used to buy one pair of shoes and a set of clothing for each of his daughters so that they did not feel sad, despite the price differences before and after the feast.

His wife, Umm Salem, says that the salaries of PA employees in Ramallah were deposited in the banks very late this time, thus reducing the time available to buy clothes for everyone because of the crowds.

The Shaja’iyya marketplace is also very crowded. It is a lower-class market than the one on Omar al-Mukhtar Street in the Rammal neighborhood — which is considered Gaza’s Georgetown — but the prices are high in Shaja’iyya, too.

Umm Khaled, 53, bought new clothes for her daughters Khouloud, Falastin and Reem. But she was shocked by the high prices, especially given that her husband is on a retirement salary of no more than $500 a month, while the least expensive shirt is going for $24.

Not far from there, Arafat’s pastry shop sells ka’ak stuffed with dried dates. The shore’s owner, Youssef Arafat, tells Al-Monitor that he made more than 200 kilograms — which he sells for 15 shekels [$4] per kilogram — but that sales have been low so far. He hopes that sales will pick up in the final hours before Eid.

Not all employees have the ability to bake ka’ak or bread at home. A traffic cop who says his name is Muhannad tells Al-Monitor that his wife and sons did not buy clothes or make ka’ak for Eid, because the Gaza government salaries — which are over $500 a month — have not yet been deposited in the bank.

Muhannad, 31, directs traffic and prevents vendors from laying their wares on the sidewalk in the market. He says that their presence reduces the available walking space and causes chaos. But the aim of those vendors is not to block the street, says Ibrahim, 20, who sells men’s clothing on the sidewalk to help his 12-member family. His elderly father is unable to work.

Ibrahim complains to Al-Monitor that the police have repeatedly seized his and his colleagues' goods. The police have put the confiscated goods from about 2,000 illegal sellers in a large vehicle. Ibrahim says he was detained several times for this reason.

Ibrahim feels anger as he speaks because they seized his goods, which he has not yet paid for. The same happened to his colleague Ahmed, 19, who puts shoes in boxes and sells them to passersby to help his large family.

Another cop stands at the intersection of the Imla market. The cop directs traffic and punishes young men who harass young women. The young men’s behavior sometimes reaches a level of sexual harassment, while the cop himself gives his opinion to girls who he deems not dressed modestly.

Friends Hazem, Ahmed, Hossam and Harb are no older than 26. Two of them tell Al-Monitor that the police are being too strict, while the other two think that the place iss chaotic and overcrowded. All denied harassing the women. They say that they do not wish to buy anything, and that they just want to walk the streets.

With morning Eid prayers underway, one cannot help but feel joy seeing all the new clothes in the streets and children holding their toys. Perhaps Ibrahim may forget about his confiscated goods. And perhaps Muhannad the cop may forget about his delayed salary. Everyone will eat ka’ak this Eid, and that will eliminate the taste of bitterness.

Asmaa al-Ghoul is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse and a journalist from the Rafah refugee camp based in Gaza.

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