women looking down amid rubble
Grayscale Media/CARE

Ramadan in Gaza and our common bond as human beings

Ramadan, the holy month celebrated by millions of Muslims worldwide, is supposed to be a time for reflection and solidarity where streets are filled with light. In Gaza, however, this Ramadan will happen amid darkness. The war in the enclave has left streets literally dark, as over 80% of electricity has been destroyed. Over 30,000 people have been killed. A staggering 2.2 million Gazans, the entire population, are facing desperate needs. Children are already dying from starvation.

CARE's West Bank and Gaza Country Director Hiba Tibi reflects on what this Ramadan will mean for the Palestinian people. 

"On Sunday, the sacred month of Ramadan begins, a time of fasting, sharing, praying, and reflection. During Ramadan, we gather with our families to break the fast at the end of the day, the streets decorated with lights. At the end of the month, for Eid, we give each other presents to show our appreciation and love. 

I have just returned to Ramallah, where I lead CARE’s West Bank and Gaza team and for the first time ever, the anticipation of this holy month is mixed with feelings of sorrow and dread.

This year, there are few Ramadan decorations in Ramallah, with no one looking forward to celebrating a month of peace when our brothers and sisters in Gaza are dying of war and hunger.

60% of the houses in Gaza have been destroyed – it has been over five months since children were able to sleep in their own beds. Gathering around a shared meal with loved ones, the simple joys of home, have become distant memories. People in Gaza have had to flee four, five, or more times. Their homes are piles of rubble, their livelihoods shattered, leaving them with little to call their own, let alone to share with others.

Women cooking on fire amid rubble

Palestian family gathered in the ruins of their house, which was destroyed by an airstrike in November. Photo: Grayscale Media/CARE

Ramadan, this year, is overcast by the profound losses endured by 2.3 million people, ravaged by five months of brutal conflict, deprivation, and displacement. To add to people’s worries, a ground offensive in Rafah is still a very real scenario, announced for the 10th of March, the very first day of Ramadan. 

How can we celebrate?

I remember how excited my parents were when my siblings and I were dressed in new clothes for Eid, marking the end of Ramadan. Now, in Gaza, people still wear the clothes they fled with five months ago, and many must rent shoes when walking outside their camps, as the soles of their sandals wore off when running for their lives over and over.

How can we celebrate amidst this shadow of loss, with tens of thousands of orphaned children, killed mothers, and starving babies?

How can we celebrate when those who have survived the war are at risk of dying a slow death, either of otherwise preventable diseases, malnourishment, or lack of medical care? How can we be joyous, knowing that just 113 kilometers away from us, just a few days ago, a 10-year-old boy called Yazan literally starved to death? Parents in Gaza cannot afford even a meager meal for their hungry children, let alone fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables. Even dates, which people usually eat to break their fast, are not allowed to enter.

Boy with short dark hair and blue shirt looking up next to another taller boy

A Palestinian boy stands on the debris of his family's destroyed house following an Israeli airstrike in the central Gaza Strip. Photo: Grayscale Media/CARE

These feelings of dread instead of joyous anticipation ahead of Ramadan are similar to how I felt in December when I got married. I was looking forward to this day for so many months, excited to form a lifelong bond with my now husband. A designer made my wedding dress, with beautiful Palestinian stitches. I did not wear it. We did not even have a dinner. With Gaza weighing down our hearts, our stomachs felt like they were filled with stones, our eyes burning from what we see unfolding, our mouths too numb to sing joyous songs.

My husband is Canadian and originally from Gaza. He is now in Canada but he believes in what I do, in the CARE team, and he wants me to continue to lead and support them to ease the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza as much as possible.

Glimpses of hope

Despite everything that is happening, glimmers of hope pierce through the gloom. Our team here in Ramallah, and many of our CARE colleagues around the globe, keep showing me that a better world is possible. Many have family or friends in Gaza, some have also lost loved ones. Everyone is going through incredible hardships yet displays reservoirs of strength, resilience, and selflessness.

Despite their personal hardships, my team in Gaza is unwaveringly dedicated to ensuring CARE’s programs can make a difference in reducing the suffering of so many.

The West Bank and Gaza team is putting in endless extra hours, and have, among themselves, friends, and family, personally fundraised 70,000 USD to buy additional tents for parents and their children, otherwise sleeping on cold concrete, exposed to wind and rain. Their solidarity, dedication and compassion are my motor, their open hearts, and sharp minds are to me what Ramadan is really all about – a common bond we share as humans, the most powerful antidote against despair. 

As CARE, we cannot end the war, we cannot create a desperately needed ceasefire, we cannot bring back thousands of dead mothers to their children or replace limbs of over 1,000 child amputees. As humanitarian actors, what we can do is support people with food, water, shelter, and medical care. Until now, we have been able to help over 261,270 people in Gaza.

Line of people holding plastic large bottles in front of metal water truck

In February, CARE teams have supported over 75,000 people with the distribution of water. Photo: CARE

My heartfelt wish for this Ramadan is for the spirit of empathy and generosity to transcend boundaries. Our prayers will be for the people of Gaza, for they know they are not forgotten, our donations will be to help them survive, our decorations will be candles we light for the more than 30,000 who have been killed so far. That humanitarian assistance to Gaza vastly increases to meet the desperate need, and that people can safely access it. That all those who are separated from their families can rejoin them soon. Through acts of kindness and solidarity, we sow seeds of hope amidst a moonscape of war, offering a glimmer of light in the darkest of hours, reminding all that, in our shared humanity, lies the promise of a brighter tomorrow."

Photo Credit: BBC/CARE

Hiba Tibi, CARE West Bank and Gaza Country Director, who has been at the forefront of CARE's emergency response to this war in Gaza.