Gazans find little to celebrate as Eid al-Fitr begins at the end of Ramadan

As Eid al-Fitr approached, Amani Abu Awda's four children began asking her for new clothes and toys – festive items that Muslims routinely buy to celebrate the holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

But Ms. Abu Awda, a mother of four from northern Gaza, is now displaced with her family in a tent in the southern city of Rafah, far from any sense of celebration and the home that once hosted large family gatherings.

“Oh God, I couldn't get him anything because of the high prices,” she said on Saturday, days before most Muslims around the world celebrated Eid al-Fitr. “I had to go look for some used clothing. On normal days, we would never buy things like this. But I couldn't even find any used clothes.”

Eid al-Fitr – the three-day celebration that begins Wednesday and marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan – was a joyous time in Gaza. But with famine threatening Gaza amid Israel's continuing military offensive, Palestinians say there is little to celebrate.

Ms Abu Awda's family managed to take some clothes with them when they fled their home in Jabaliya two months ago. But at a checkpoint, Israeli soldiers forced them to throw away everything they were carrying as they walked along a dangerous road where some Palestinians had disappeared into detention and others had been killed in Israeli airstrikes, she said.

“What kind of Eid is this?” Ms Abu Awda said, adding: “We have lost so much. We have lost family and loved ones. We lost our homes and we lost our security. The feeling of death is with us at all times and the smell of death is everywhere.”

More than anything, Ms. Abu Awda said, they want an Eid ceasefire.

Just as Ramadan, a month of daily fasting and religious observance, was marked by bittersweet memories of how it was observed before Israel's war in Gaza, Eid will also be marked by nostalgic comparisons for how different the occasion was only one year ago.

Before the war, shopping malls were full of families buying new clothes for the holidays and sweets to offer to all the relatives who would come to visit in the days before Eid.

Now those relatives are almost all displaced, crammed into small houses together with others or in suffocating tents made of plastic sheets.

Many Muslims in the Middle East visit the graves of their loved ones during Eid. But with so many people killed since the war began in October, and with many of them buried in makeshift graves or yet to be recovered from under the rubble, maintaining that tradition is now impossible for most.

Gaza's Health Ministry says more than 33,000 people have been killed in Gaza in six months of Israeli bombardment.

In Gaza City, some people hung small lights or paper decorations in the streets. But it did little to combat the general sadness, said Alina Al-Yazji, a 20-year-old university student.

“The streets, instead of smelling of biscuits, mamoul, sumaqia and phaseekh and all these wonderful smells,” Ms Al-Yazji said, naming some of the traditional sweet and savory dishes eaten during Eid, “instead, the streets smell of blood and killing and destruction.”

As he spoke, the sound of an Israeli fighter plane roared overhead.

Sitting in her tent in Rafah, Muna Daloob, 50, couldn't help but remember past holidays, before her family fled their home in Gaza City.

She said she is not making Eid biscuits, mamoul or phaseekh because she has no cooking gas and all the ingredients, including flour and sugar, are too expensive or in short supply.

He hoped he could at least find – and afford – the smallest of gifts to make his grandchildren smile: a lollipop.

For 22-year-old Mohammad Shehada, like other Palestinian men, Eid comes with the expectation of giving cash gifts, called eidiya.

In most Muslim cultures, adults give small eidiyas to children. But Palestinians give money to both children and adult relatives. Even before the war, some Palestinian men in Gaza struggled to afford to give eidiya following a 17-year land, air and sea blockade imposed on Gaza by Israel and supported by Egypt. Now, in the midst of war, eidiya will be almost impossible for most people.

“The joy of the children who gather around you when you give them an eidiya, we cannot give it this year and we will be ashamed,” he said.

Shehada hoped that some mosques, most of which have become shelters for Gaza's many displaced people, will continue to hold Eid morning prayers. She hoped to eat famaekh, a fermented fish dish, the simplest of Eid pleasures, she said.

“I have many hopes for Eid,” he said, “but first and foremost that they put an end to this disgusting war.”

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