Having spent many ‘Eid celebrations in the Gaza Strip, in the years since late 2008, I thought it interesting to compare ‘Eid al-Adha (and the two ‘Eid holidays in general) in Gaza to ‘Eid in Canada.
Some rather obvious observations jump out at anyone who has a sense of the collective suffering in the Gaza Strip of the last many decades, but particularly since tightened closures after Hamas’ election in 2006. Amira Hass, who writes for Ha’aretz, would point out that the closures began at least in the ’90s and steadily worsened, even though Hamas was not then in power…That the closures were, as they are now, a form of collective punishment against Palestinians, for no other reason than this is what Zionists do (my paraphrasing).
The Gaza Strip has been rendered desperately poor by the continued closed borders and ban on exports (since at least 2007), and by the Zionist bombings of Palestinian factories and businesses, and the restrictions on imports—so severe between the years of 2007-2010 that all but up to 40 items were forbidden entry into the Strip, banned goods including innocuous things like diapers, baby formula, seeds, fertilizers, medicines, A4 paper, shoes, toys…Calculations were made of the base number of calories average Palestinians in Gaza needed to exist—not to thrive or be nourished, simply to not starve. For the last many years, and including today, roughly 80% of the 1.7 million Palestinians in Gaza depend on food aid to survive. These food handouts are scarcely adequate, comprising mainly flour, sugar, oil and if lucky dried chickpeas. Fruits, vegetables, fish or meat are not included.
Stoic families make due as they can, usually meaning skipping meals or skimping on quality. It is no coincidence that diabetes is on the rise in Gaza, with the majority of families eating meals that are protein and produce deficient and are high on oils and carbohydrates.
But during ‘Eid, a time of celebration, prayer, reverence, and family, the majority of Palestinians in Gaza feel the pinch, or noose, depending on their circumstances. Even for those employed with salaries, they often find themselves standing in long lines at bank ATMs, fruitlessly hoping for their salaries to be doled out.
For the other 35% unemployed (many cite rates of between 35% to 65%, depending on the age group addressed: adults versus men and women in their early twenties), not receiving their salary in the months before and during ‘Eid is devastating.
They cannot honour their families and neighbours as they should and would. In Palestine, after prayers at the mosque, the tradition is to visit with family, and in the case of brothers, to bring gifts to their sisters, usually in the form of succulent local dates, fruit or chocolates. I recall an ‘Eid celebration several years ago where a friend not only couldn’t afford to bring his siblings gifts, but also could scarcely afford the shared taxis to visit them.
As is the Muslim custom, families usually buy a lamb to give its meat out to the poor; not being able to afford to do so is a point of great shame and disappointment for Gaza’s proud, but largely impoverished, Palestinians. This year various reports from Gaza note that few are able to buy lambs or sheep, many opting instead for salted fish (feseekh) for their meal, and are simply not able to give the charitable donations they yearn to give.Ma’an notes that livestock sales are down 40% this year and that prices are soaring.
Further tainting the customary festivity and beauty of ‘Eid in Palestine is that due to the manufactured poverty, many parents aren’t even able to buy their children new clothes, or give each of their child relatives the equivalent of 25 cents.
The daily power cuts—apparently now up from a mere 8 hours off 8 hours on schedule to half days or longer off, with recent notices that Gaza’s sole plant may have to shut down altogether—make life unbearable, and dangerous: affecting hospitals and sanitation plants, one of the causes 90 million litres of sewage is pumped daily into the sea, Gaza’s one place of solace.
The lack of fuel makes it nearly impossible not only to get to universities, work for those who have it, but also during ‘Eid, to visit families.
The hell of Rafah crossing, the sole non-Israeli controlled crossing, in recent months largely closed is amplified during times of festivity, when loved ones try to be together. It’s not the first time Palestinians have suffered during ‘Eid due to the closed border, and surely won’t be the last.
That said, despite the hardships, beauty and traditions do still exist. In both of the ‘Eid holidays in Palestinian homes deemed impoverished but not—yet—food insecure” (2011: 44 % of households in Gaza; 2012: 57%), women work together in the days leading up to ‘Eid to craft inexpensive date-filled cookies (“mahmoul”) to serve to visitors and family, and however meagre the meal families do share some sort of special lunch. Molokkhiya, an inexpensive hearty green, is a common soup in Gaza and a good supplement for the nutrient-deficient diets, and a fall-back meal for the impoverished.
Other forms of children’s entertainment, for the small percentage of families with a shekel or two to spare (25-50 cents), include a ride on a tassled horse, the same on a camel along the beach, and to my knowledge the horse and carriage rides still circulate around Gaza City’s main square, al Jundi (the soldier), also for a pittance. When I interviewed the men who’d started that project, they admitted they often give free rides to kids whose parents can’t afford the shekel fare.
Above all, there is a sense of community, of family, and a sense that all of Gaza is at least observing ‘Eid, even if their circumstances are dire.
In Canada, in contrast, we suffer little to none of what Palestinians, especially in Gaza, suffer. We have freedom of movement, opportunity for employment, food security, no danger of being bombed and (for most of us) of having our houses raided and loved ones abducted, and we are generally able to observe holidays with relative comfort, though poverty does of course exist.
Imam Zafar Bangash, of the York Region Islamic centre, explained why, a few days before ‘Eid, his mosque held a bazaar. He noted that with the community spread throughout various districts of Toronto (and with ‘Eid not being a national holiday), it is difficult for families, much less friends and the entire community, to meet together during ‘Eid. For children, the atmosphere of festivity found in places like Palestine, largely doesn’t exist here.
It’s true. During December, Christians and non-Christians are immersed in an atmosphere of festivity, decorations and carols abound. But for Muslims, in either of the major holy days, that atmosphere—and for children the sense of excitement—is largely not present.
Holding the day-long bazaar is an opportunity for families to visit, share food and pre-celebrate the sense of festivity usually accompanied by ‘Eid days.
Visiting the mosque again on October 16, I saw that while the decorations and atmosphere found in Palestine were lacking, the sense of community and gratitude was not.
Imam Bangash’s sermon revisited the history of ‘Eid al-Adha, explaining the importance of remembering the historical roots.*(see below). But after doing so, he brought the importance of ‘Eid al-Adha, and being Muslim in general, to the present, emphasizing the need to not only pray and be good Muslims, but to stand up and speak out where there is injustice, wherever it may be, for whomever.
He did not, of course, say anything of sectarian nature (which cannot always be said for many Saudi, Qatari and other Gulf state mosques); there was no “hate-talk” as often depicted in corporate media, nor negative talk of non-Muslims. The message was a reminder of the humanity, humility and sacrifice, and an powerful exhortation for all of us (Muslims and non) to not only stand on the side of justice but to actively work for it.
Following the prayers and sermon, members of the mosque drifted in and out of the prayer room, chatting casually and sharing meals. Kids were kids, and the mood was light and very welcoming.
“Eid al-Adha marks the sacrifice of Prophets Ibrahim and Ismail (alayhimu as-salam) in conformity with Allah’s command. The father and son prophets did not show the slightest hesitation in obeying Allah subhanahu wa taala. For this, Ibrahim (as) was rewarded with the Imamah (leadership) of all humankind (Al-Qur’an, 2:124).
Muslims commemorate this sacrifice by sacrificing a lamb. The meat is distributed among needy people.
Some Muslims—those that can afford and are able to—also perform the Hajj pilgrimage. This, too, re-enacts the example of the two noble Prophets and the example of Ismail’s (as) mother, Hajar (as) when she ran between the hills of Safa and Marwa in search of water for her infant son that was dying of hunger and thirst.
Through divine miracle, a spring gushed forth on the spot where Hajar had left her infant Ismail (as) as she ran between the two hills in hopes of finding some caravan that might be passing by. This spring is called Zam Zam and still provides water for millions of hujjaj every year.
Once again, we wish all our readers a joyous Eid al-Adha and pray they will reflect on the importance of this day to make the utmost effort in alleviating suffering and oppression from the world.”