Empty pockets promise grim Eid for Gazans

GAZA CITY — In Gaza City’s Firas market the stalls are laden with gift items and toys, fireworks and new clothes, cooking utensils and fish, as people crowd around, looking, touching and walking on.

As the fasting month of Ramadan draws to an end and people look ahead to the Eid Al Fitr holiday that follows, there is little thought of feasting, except to look back fondly to Eids gone past.

Amid the din of shopkeepers hawking their wares over loudspeakers, Abdulkarim says “people are coming, but they’re not buying … They don’t have any money.” “I only get paid 1,500 shekels ($360, 280 euros) and I have a family of 10,” says this member of the Palestinian presidential guard who has come to the market with his two children.

“This year, there will be no presents.” Abdulkarim is one of the 170,000 civil servants in the Palestinian territories who have not been properly paid since the Islamist movement Hamas formed a government in March. The United States and European Union, who have blacklisted Hamas as a terror group, cut off financial aid to the Palestinians. The crisis, which spreads across the economy, is compounded by Israel’s freezing of millions of dollars a month in customs revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinians. It is not just a shortage of cash that promises to put a damper on one of the two major holidays in the Muslim calendar.

The territories are also plagued by a wave of deadly internecine fighting, pitting Hamas partisans against those of the former ruling party Fateh.

At the same time, scores of people have been killed in a four-month campaign by Israel to prevent fighters from firing rockets on its territory and to recover a captured soldier. Eid, as it is commonly known, marks the end of Ramadan, a month in which the devout take no food or drink from dawn to dusk. Fitr means “to break” and symbolises the breaking of the fasting period and of all sinful habits. After special prayers to mark the day, festivities and merriment traditionally start with visits to the homes of friends and relatives.

Traditionally, everyone wears new clothes for Eid, and the children look forward to gifts, usually cash.

The last few nights of Ramadan it is almost impossible to get into the shops, as everyone is buying their clothes.

It won’t be a joyful Eid for Umm Iyad, 37, whose husband is out of work because of a back ailment and who has a family of 10.

“The feast costs a lot, and I don’t have enough money,” she says. “I feel sad when my children come to me everyday and ask me to buy some new clothes. But the money I have is just enough to feed them.” Her seven-year-old daughter Aida is philosophical about it.

“I would like to have new clothes like other children, but I think that I will wear for the feast the clothes some neighbours gave to my mother.” Umm Iyad tries to put a brave face on it.

“The only thing we can do is rely on God and hope things will be better tomorrow. But I’m not very optimistic for the future.” UNRWA, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, is trying to help out by providing 100 shekels for each schoolchild.

Abdulkarim says that “with this money, you can just barely buy new shoes for the children.” At a nearby stall of colorful toys, Hassam Kalussa, 35, picks out a plastic car for two shekels, that he will give to one of his children.

“I have to buy toys for the children,” he says. “In past years, I would give them something like 100 shekels worth of gifts. This year it won’t be even 40,” says the employee of a telecoms firm.

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