The Muslim holy month of Ramadan is a time to donate, with mosques and charities feeding thousands, but the coronavirus has left many in the Gaza Strip wondering how they will manage this year.
“The markets and mosques are closed. The good people who give us money or help every Ramadanare in a difficult situation,” said unemployed 47-year-old Palestinian salah Jibril.
He and his wife live with their six children in a cramped two-bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Gaza City.
He said his family normally relies on the help they received during Ramadan to help them for the rest of the year.
“It is the hardest Ramadan we have faced. We do not know how we are going to deal with it,” he added.
So far, 17 cases of coronavirus have been officially reported in the Gaza Strip, an enclave of around two million people.
This is due in part to swift action by the local government, led by the Islamist group Hamas, which has announced that all mosques will remain closed during the holy month.
Public prayer gatherings prohibited
Large public prayer gatherings will be banned and people will have to stay at home.
The population of Gaza is almost exclusively Muslim.
During Ramadan, the faithful refrain from consuming food and even water during the day, breaking their fast at sunset with family and large groups.
Mosques and other charities feed thousands of the poor during the month, while individuals often donate large sums of money to help the poor – a gift called zakat.
But this year in the Gaza Strip, large public meals are banned and no concrete announcements have been made about other arrangements.
Donations are expected to decrease due to the global economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Hamas announced this week that it was giving $ 100 (€ 93) to 5,000 poor families in the gang before Ramadan.
Jibril’s family was not among them.
He receives around 1,800 shekels ($ 500 or € 463) every four months from the local Ministry of Social Affairs.
“It is not enough to pay the electricity, water and gas bills, as well as food and drink and medicine when the children are sick,” he said.
The family has neither detergents nor sterilizers. A small bar of soap on a broken sink is all they have to keep their house clean.
No money to buy meat
Umm Mohammed, Jibril’s wife, said that she did not remember when they had enough money to buy meat.
“The coronavirus is worse than a war,” she said.
According to the United Nations, about 80% of the inhabitants of the strip depend on aid.
Fifty-year-old father of seven, Abdullah al-Omreen made a living selling fruit and vegetables in central Gaza, but is now unemployed.
During Ramadan, “we receive alms from the wealthy and they also provide us with meals daily. But this year the situation is different,” he said. “It will be difficult for everyone. I fear that nobody will give us anything.”
The coronavirus crisis has increased calls for Israel to lift its nearly 13-year-old crippling blockade of the enclave, which he says is necessary to isolate Hamas.
The Islamist group has waged three wars with Israel since 2008.
The mood may be muted, but many residents of Gaza continue to immerse themselves in the spirit of Ramadan by installing decorations on the front of their homes.
“Despite the difficult economic situation caused by the coronavirus, we decorate our houses with Ramadan lanterns,” said Moeen Abbas, owner of an ice cream shop.
“We want our children to feel the atmosphere of the holy month.”