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Between sadness and rubble

There is no trace of the usually joyful atmosphere at the Sugar Festival in the Gaza Strip this year. A family tells how they celebrate the festival in times of war – marked by sadness, fear and uncertainty

Clemens Verenkotte

The two women are sisters, 56-year-old Ibtesam Abu Saif and 60-year-old Samara Abu Hashim. They spent the last sugar festival with their large families in Beit Lahya, in the very north of the Gaza Strip. They celebrated in large houses, with beautiful gardens and shady trees.

Now the two have found refuge in a house in Rafah that is completely overcrowded with other internally displaced people. The male family members sleep outside in the tents. Ibtesam Abu Saif describes her feelings towards it on the eve of the sugar festival ARD Studio Tel Aviv with these words: “This sugar festival is a sad sugar festival because we have been displaced and are not in our homes.”

Normally, before the sugar festival, they would prepare sweets, chocolates and cakes, clean their houses and receive guests. “Now we're at war, and there's nothing left of what we used to do.”

“Our feelings are indescribable”

Just a week after the start of the war, she and her family fled from Beit Lahya, first to Khan Yunis and then all the way south to Rafah. Just like her sister, Samara Abu Hashim has lost everything: “Our feelings are sad and painful feelings.” These are feelings of lack of joy and happiness. Instead, she has feelings of fear and terror and a lack of security. “Our feelings are indescribable.”

Friends of one of her sons, who were staying in the north of the Gaza Strip, sent Ibtesam Abu Saif a short video on Whatsapp weeks later: their former living quarters in Beit Lahya could be seen. Almost all the houses were bombed. Nothing remained of her own house except a single heap of rubble.

Ramadan in ruins: Palestinians in the north of the Gaza Strip shop for the sugar festival.

“We only eat canned food”

Now, in Rafah, where almost 1.5 million homeless people have been trying to survive in unbearable conditions for weeks and months, it is almost impossible to get the delicacies and specialties that are otherwise common during the three-day festival.

Ibtesam Abu Saif says, “Most people in Gaza eat a meal called 'fasikh' during the sugar festival.” This is a fish that is very salty and is no longer available in the markets. “And when you find it, it's very expensive.” Her sister Samara Abu Hashim adds: “To be honest, there is no food, only canned goods, and the prices are very high.” That is impossible to pay.

Celebration without joy

It is very difficult for the two sisters to think about tomorrow in view of the horror, the pitch-dark nights of bombing, the now over 100,000 dead and injured and the deep sadness that prevails everywhere. Can they ever imagine celebrating another Eid al Fitr in the future, which they previously spent so joyfully and happily?

Ibtesam Abu Saif replied: “We are going through a serious war, and it is difficult to celebrate the festival and feel the atmosphere of the sugar festival. I may feel happy again after years of attending the sugar festival. But Gaza is very destroyed, so it difficult to feel the atmosphere of the Sugar Festival.”

Clemens Verenkotte, ARD Tel Aviv, tagesschau, April 9, 2024 8:06 p.m

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