Eid offers no respite for war-weary Palestinians in Gaza

Kristen ChickThe Christian Science Monitor

Eid Al Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, is normally a time of celebration in Gaza. Families crowd the streets, shopping for new clothes, buying sweets for their children, and going to restaurants. Relatives visit one another, and call friends to deliver holiday greetings.

But this year people gathered together in this coastal enclave for funerals as the death toll in the three-week conflict topped 1,050 people.

“There is nothing to celebrate,” says Ghada Heles, who lost her home in the Israeli bombardment of the Shejaiya neighborhood, of the holiday. “How can we celebrate the blood that's been shed, the houses destroyed, or that we've been made homeless? That we have no shelter, no house?” 

She watched as her children played in a park in central Gaza City. Parents normally buy their children new clothes for the holiday; she managed to secure some new dresses and shirts for her kids from a mosque giving out donations. Her daughter asked for a new doll, but the family doesn't have the means to buy one. They are living nearby in an unfinished building after fleeing Shejaiya. The family travels to a university to find water for bathing and depends on donations for food and drinking water.

Playtime becomes tragic

Eid brought no respite from the climbing death toll of the past few weeks.

According to Gaza's health ministry, 10 people died Monday – eight of them children – when missiles struck an outpatient clinic near Gaza's main hospital and a street in a refugee camp where children were playing. Forty were wounded, including 32 children. Many of those killed in this war have been children. 

Witnesses to the Shati refugee camp attack said children were playing in the street, running back and forth between a swing on the sidewalk and a nearby kiosk doing business in drinks and snacks on the first day in a month that adults were not fasting.

Suddenly, there was an explosion. “They hit the place where the kids were playing,” said Khaled Al Sirhi, who was sitting down the street with his friends when the missile hit. The aftermath, he said, was gruesome. 

Hours later, neighbors milled about surveying the damage. When they heard the roar of a rocket being launched toward Israel and saw it fly into the sky, many began to cheer.

Israel said both the strike on the hospital and the refugee camp were the result of rockets aimed at Israel that misfired and fell into Gaza, a claim Hamas denied. Israel also initially suggested that Hamas rockets were responsible for a strike on a shelter for displaced people Thursday that killed 16 people. It later admitted that the Israeli military shelled the school, but denied killing anyone.

'What Eid?'

On the edge of Shejaiya neighborhood, the streets that bustled last Eid were quiet except for the drones buzzing above. One family sat outside their damaged building, which they had come to check on during a lull in the fighting. Buildings on either side of it were completely destroyed. Bullet holes marred the metal gate covering the window of a small grocery shop on the ground floor.

Family members said they tried to check on their slaughterhouse a kilometer away, but found a tank parked in front of it and the place in ruins. 

They would not be celebrating, said Suheil Mortejaa. “What Eid are you talking about? There was no Ramadan and there is no Eid right now.”