In Jerusalem and the West Bank, Ramadan is marred by violence and loss | EUROtoday

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The conflict in Gaza has solid a pall over the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a time of fasting and reflection, charity and group.

For Palestinians within the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the event is at all times bittersweet — marked by moments of pleasure and fixed reminders of the Israeli occupation that shapes their lives.

Celebrations are circumscribed by Israeli restrictions. Families navigate checkpoints to collect for meals. Violence can interrupt prayer or play at any second.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas-led assault on Israel, restrictions have been tightened, Israeli army raids have intensified, and settler assaults have pushed households from their houses.

The flamable ambiance sparked considerations that Ramadan — which started on March 10 this yr — would possibly convey unrest throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank. The state of affairs has remained comparatively calm thus far, whilst anguish and loss have darkened the month’s observances.

Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque compound, and the golden-domed shrine at its heart, sit on a web site identified to Muslims because the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews because the Temple Mount. The web site is sacred to each teams. It has been a frequent flash level within the Israeli-Palestinian battle.

During Ramadan, tons of of 1000’s of Palestinians usually collect on the web site, from the place they imagine the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resisted calls from far-right ministers this yr to restrict al-Aqsa entry for Jerusalem residents. But for West Bank Palestinians, solely males over 55, ladies over 50 and youngsters underneath 10 are allowed to make the journey to wish there.

The first Friday prayer of the fasting month handed peacefully, regardless of calls from Hamas for Palestinians to “confront” Israeli authorities.

“Oh God, we ask you to save the blood of our brothers in Gaza,” the imam known as over the loudspeaker throughout the noon sermon, a very powerful of the week.

Khawla Marizi, 62, had traveled from Hebron to be there. Extra screening measures made the bus experience — an hour and a half lengthy on a superb day — take 4 hours, she mentioned.

“It was very hard for us, the people of the West Bank,” she mentioned. “But once I prayed in al-Aqsa, I forgot all my pains.”

“It is the place that our prophet came to,” she added. “We will never give it up.”

In the hour earlier than iftar, the post-sunset meal, last-minute consumers hurried across the streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, selecting up bread, juice, and qatayef – cream-filled folded pancakes — to serve for dessert.

A hush settled over the cobblestones at sundown, as households headed homeward to interrupt their fasts collectively. Afterward, a stream of individuals surged towards al-Aqsa for Taraweeh, the nightly Ramadan prayer.

Then, the Old City got here alive: Men smoking shisha lined the streets. Girls purchased gummy worms at stands overflowing with sweets. Boys chased each other via the alleyways.

But the scene was comparatively muted in contrast with most years, distributors mentioned. The proprietor of a tea store estimated that foot visitors was down 85 p.c this Ramadan – largely due to tightened Israeli restrictions on motion.

“We lost business during the coronavirus,” he mentioned. “Now we lose in wartime.”

On Tuesday, March 12, celebrations in Jerusalem have been marred by the killing of a 12-year-old boy by Israeli border police within the Shuafat refugee camp, on the town’s edge.

Ramy Hamdan al-Halhouli, described by kin as a gregarious youngster who cherished meals and soccer, had gone with buddies after the nightly prayer to the highway behind his home to gentle fireworks, a typical Ramadan pastime.

At the top of the highway stands the barrier wall that fences off the refugee camp, and behind it, a concrete Israeli watchtower. Video obtained by The Washington Post exhibits Ramy stepping out into the center of the highway with a lighted firework aimed skyward. The crack of gunfire goes off and Ramy falls to the bottom, a second earlier than the firework bursts right into a crimson bathe of flame above the boys — roughly 50 yards from the watchtower.

Ramy Hamdan al-Halhouli joined buddies to gentle fireworks in Jerusalem on March 12. He was shot by Israeli border police because the firework erupted. (Video: Ameer Al-Halhouli)

His father, Ali Hamdan al-Halhouli, 61, heard the shot from his home and ran to the boy. An ambulance took him to a Jerusalem hospital, the place he was pronounced useless. Israeli authorities held on to Ramy’s physique for almost per week earlier than releasing it to the household for burial within the pre-dawn darkness on Monday.

“He killed my hopes, my feelings,” Ali mentioned of the border police officer who shot Ramy. “My son was just a kid.”

As studies of the capturing circulated, Israeli Police mentioned in a press release that the “suspect” had endangered its forces. Later, it was introduced that the incident was underneath investigation by the Israeli Justice Ministry’s Department of Internal Police Investigations. The officer concerned was questioned and launched on March 13, a spokesman for the division mentioned, and returned to service.

“That’s exactly how one should act against terrorists,” Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel’s far-right nationwide safety minister, who oversees the police, wrote on Telegram after Ramy’s demise.

At least 112 Palestinian kids have been killed in conflict-related violence within the West Bank and East Jerusalem between Oct. 7 and early March, in accordance with UNICEF, the United Nations kids’s company.

The northern West Bank metropolis of Nablus is without delay a business hub and a hotbed of Palestinian militancy. It is legendary for producing tahini and sweets, particularly throughout Ramadan. But new Israeli restrictions since Oct. 7 are crippling the financial system. Many Nablus residents are out of labor and struggling financially.

On Wednesday morning final week within the Balata camp, a maze of slim alleys that’s residence to some 33,000 refugees, the native committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization was making ready iftar meals of rooster, rice and potatoes at hand out to 700 individuals — almost double the quantity who relied on meals help in earlier years, native officers mentioned.

Fewer clients are coming to Ahmad Misheh’s store on Balata’s major highway to purchase luqma, a particular Ramadan pastry, Misheh mentioned. But the absence he feels extra acutely is that of his 21-year-old son Mustafa, whose quick fingers expertly rolled the balls of dough in years previous.

Mustafa, whom Misheh described as an “active” fighter within the camp, was arrested in August 2022 for capturing at an Israeli checkpoint. No one was damage within the incident.

After Oct. 7, household visits to the Israeli jail the place Mustafa is held have been suspended. “Every night we sit down for the iftar, we think about him,” Misheh mentioned. “Is he eating? Is he healthy?”

The household is holding out hope that Mustafa might be launched as a part of a Gaza cease-fire deal between Israel and Hamas, during which Israeli hostages could be exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. But talks thus far have yielded little progress.

Israeli army raids right here have grow to be extra frequent and violent since Oct. 7, households say. Mothers keep awake at night time, fearing that their sons might be arrested or killed.

When the Israelis come, “I go to my room and I hide myself in bed and cover myself with blankets,” Murad al-Qatawi, 10, mentioned final week, sitting in his household’s front room, the place a bullet had pierced the window throughout a latest raid.

Murad’s uncle, Mohammad al-Qatawi, 43, was killed in an Israeli drone strike right here in January. A fighter within the second intifada — or Palestinian rebellion — Mohammad started spending time with militants in Nablus once more a number of years in the past, his household mentioned. They mentioned they didn’t know whether or not he had taken up arms once more.

“The IDF doesn’t report about Palestinian deaths,” the Israel Defense Forces mentioned when requested concerning the strike that killed him.

“There is no taste for anything without Mohammad. He was my oldest son,” his father, Juma, 72, mentioned as he broke his quick on Wednesday night final week, surrounded by his youthful kids and grandchildren. “There is no joy, no happiness.”

This Ramadan is the first that Fares Samamreh, a Palestinian farmer and father of 18, has spent away from the land that he worked all his life.

Samamreh, 57, was born in Zanuta, a small Palestinian farming village perched on a ridge in the south Hebron hills. In the 1980s, Israelis began to build settlements nearby. But the people of Zanuta carried on: Samamreh built a small house with a corrugated metal roof for his growing family.

He and his sons harvested vegetables and tended to their sheep. If Ramadan fell in the summer, the family would break their fast with wild cucumbers. “Ya salaaaam,” Samamreh mentioned with a smile after iftar on Thursday night time final week — an expression of appreciation for all times within the village.

The problems began three years ago, he said, with the arrival of extremist settlers. Their leader began to plow the family’s land and graze his own sheep there. After Oct. 7, the harassment escalated sharply, Samamreh said.

Settlers descended on the family’s home at night, threatening them and flying drones that scared their livestock. The men carried guns and wore army uniforms to appear more menacing, Samamreh said, and destroyed the family’s water supply. A group of Israeli soldiers watched as settlers harassed students at the village school, Samamreh said, and one soldier hit his 9-year-old son, Ali.

The IDF said it was not aware of the incident, adding that “the family can contact the usual channels and the issue will be reviewed.”

On Oct. 28, fear drove the Samamrehs to pack up their belongings and leave, becoming one of more than 150 families “forcibly transferred” by settlers and soldiers from rural communities in the West Bank since the war began, according to the Israeli rights group B’Tselem. The United Nations has recorded 658 attacks by settlers against Palestinians since Oct. 7.

The family resettled just over a mile away, in a makeshift structure of cinder block, concrete and sheet metal at the end of a winding dirt road. The bumpy land isn’t good for grazing or planting crops, they said.

Samamreh can nonetheless see his farmland in Zanuta from the highest of a close-by hill.

“It was the work of a lifetime,” he mentioned.

Miriam Berger in Jerusalem and Itay Stern and Lior Soroka in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.