Gazans prepare to welcome Ramadan after pandemic and war

Decorations at Al-Zawya traditional market - Gaza City (AP)

Rosie Scammell

The National  /  April 2, 2022

Last year the holy month was marred by coronavirus restrictions and the eruption of an 11-day war between Gaza militants and Israel.

Palestinians in Gaza are looking forward to Ramadan festivities after last year’s celebrations were blighted by the pandemic and the outbreak of war.

“The people of Gaza last year missed out on the enjoyment of Ramadan and Eid, so they’re trying to compensate this year and enjoy the preparations,” said Osama Al Helu, a shopkeeper in the bustling Zawya market.

The 28-year-old is busy piling dried fruit on to a tray, as bags of mixed spices hang above his head.

“This Ramadan season is better,” he said. “Last year there was coronavirus and war.”

A rise in infections last spring prompted the authorities to impose a series of measures during the Muslim holy month, including a curfew and restrictions on gatherings.

As the end of Ramadan neared, a conflict between Gaza militants and Israel erupted.

The scars wrought by the 11-day war are still visible in the Palestinian enclave, with empty spaces standing where buildings were hit by bombs.

But in recent days, Gaza city has been decked out in brightly coloured decorations in anticipation of Ramadan.

“This year you feel like life has come back to the streets,” said Arej al-Aousi, 21, visiting the historic market from her home in the southern city of Rafah.

“You feel happy once you see the lights and decorations everywhere,” the student said.

In the market, shoppers crowd around stalls covered in sweets while a hawker waves packs of festive bunting.

Customers peruse lights and lamps sold on the street, at stands and shops.

At one store in central Gaza city, Nada Abu Sada clutched a candle as she picked out decorations.

“The preparations for Ramadan this year are better than last year,” said Ms Abu Sada, 21, adding that she hoped the holy month would pass peacefully.

“I’m so excited and can’t wait to go and pray Taraweeh [evening prayer] at the mosque; last year we couldn’t because of coronavirus,” she said.

Standing in front of a wall of flashing lights, shop assistant Jihad Ahmed said customers have been gearing up for Ramadan for a month.

“There’s a huge market for Ramadan decorations this year,” he said. “Last year people didn’t have the enthusiasm or willingness to prepare for Ramadan.”

Beyond the shop floor, the 24-year-old was looking forward to the return of the customary gatherings over the next few weeks.

“This year we’ll get the chance to get together and hang out, not like last year when there were closures because of coronavirus,” said Mr Ahmed.

While some Gazans wear face masks as they go about their shopping, the authorities have not announced coronavirus restrictions this Ramadan.

In Zawya market, Ms Al-Aousi takes in the crowds during her first visit to the area.

“I’m so happy to have come here and I’m enjoying the atmosphere,” she said.

“I will keep coming each year, because this makes me really feel the spirit of Ramadan.”

Rosie Scammell – correspondent, Jerusalem