By Shaimaa Mustafa – Gaza City
Ihab Al-Ashqar, a 14-year-old Gazan, smiles bitterly while explaining why he does not feel the joy that always accompanies the arrival of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
“All the crosses are sealed. They [Israel] are killing us very slowly,” he told IslamOnline.net.
Like most of the 1.6 million people of Gaza, Ashqar is missing the joy that Ramadan brings to Muslims every year.
This year, the dawn-to-dusk fasting month comes to a Gaza battered by a barbaric Israeli war and reeling under a stifling Israeli siege.
“Our hearts and our homes are full of grief and sorrow,” says Huda Al–Astal dolefully.
“Our life stands idle. We can barely breathe.”
Israel has been isolating the costal enclave and its civilian population from the world since Hamas was voted to power in 2006, shutting down all crossings.
Israel blocks humanitarian aid including harmless goods such as cheeses, toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap and toilet papers.
Om-Basel fears that even the joy of breaking the fast with her family will be swallowed by darkness as Israel continues to block the delivery of fuel.
“We are denied even the light,” fumes the Gazan mother.
“Our life has become unbearable.”
In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Muslims dedicate their time during the holy fasting month to become closer to Allah through prayer, self-restraint and good deeds.
Across impoverished Gaza, people are readying themselves for the most austere Ramadan in years.
“In the run-up to Ramadan people used to swamp the markets to shop for the holy month,” Mohammed Farag, a merchant, told IOL.
“But this year, we have very few goods to sell, and people have no money to buy.”
Abu Mohamed Al-Shawwa walks down the market hunting for anything he can afford to buy for his family with the little money he has.
“The prices are sky-rocketing,” says the desperate father.
“Even the few stuff I managed to bring for my family last year will not be available on our Ramadan table this year.”
Unemployment stands at more than 60 percent in Gaza and the World Bank estimates that two-thirds of the population lives under the poverty line.
More than a million people in Gaza survive on UN food handouts.
Nihad Al-Helw, a mother of eight whose husband remains without a job, says they will be lucky to have any food for iftar.
“I only hope to get my children one type of food to eat.”
Her child We`am knows that meat, fish and fruits are off the menu.
But what is more painful to her is that she would not get the colorful Ramadan lantern her father used to buy her.
“Not even the lantern,” she says in a sobbing voice.
“This will be the saddest Ramadan ever.”