As Ramadan approaches, with its solemnity of spiritual abstention and fasting, and the anticipation of nightly feasting, I feel a stone in the pit of my belly.

Or perhaps it’s a boulder that is weighing me down with this dull, leaden dread, this unshakeable guilt and this feeling of deep inadequacy and shame.

How can I sit down at a table laden with steaming soup, bowls piled with fresh tabbouleh and fattoush, succulent meat and rice dishes, when my family and loved ones in Gaza find no respite from their imposed starvation?

Will my first bite of a date – the fruit that Muslims traditionally consume to break their sunrise-to-sunset fast – taste bitter this year, infused with the unworthiness I feel to be sating my hunger while in northern Gaza families have resorted to eating grass and bread made from ground animal fodder just to survive?

How can I look around the Iftar table at the faces of my family and friends when Palestinian communities, kinship groups on the other side of the planet but so painfully close to my heart, are being shattered by the shrapnel and terror of Israeli genocide?

Most Muslims that I’ve spoken to recently – Palestinians and non-Palestinians both – have said their Ramadan observances this year will be a time of mourning and grief for the people of Gaza.

For five months, Israel’s genocide in Gaza has been broadcast live on our handheld devices, the accounts and images of children torn apart by shelling and homes, hospitals, universities, beloved cultural institutions razed by bombs not only filling our every waking hour but seeping into our feverish dreams.

More than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed by Israel’s brutal violence on the besieged territory, the majority of them women and children.

More than 70,000 Palestinians have been wounded, many in ways that will forever change the course of their lives.

The bulk of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people has been violently uprooted from their homes and neighbourhoods and communities by unspeakable horrors, and herded by Israeli forces towards the so-called ‘safe zone’ of Rafah, where they are now terrorized and massacred, even as they sleep, by Israeli shelling.

Not one mosque has been left standing. Muslims in Gaza are unable to stand together and perform their prayers collectively as all Muslims normally would.

These horrors have no justification – not under international law, not according to the principles of humanity and justice that we all claim to hold so dear.

And yet, as Ramadan approaches, the atrocities continue and, indeed, intensify.

Negotiations continue over whether the Israeli Government may halt its violence in Gaza during the coming month, so that Palestinians can celebrate their holiest month under the ripped tarpaulins of their makeshift refugee camps in Rafah.

Even so, there is no celebration for us, here in Australia, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising to bring the might of his military down upon Rafah, ceasefire or not.

And there’s no celebration for us while we, on this continent, continue to be smeared, stigmatised, targeted, silenced and discriminated against for speaking out against this violence.

This Ramadan, we come together in our faith to hold ourselves and each other up in the face of cruelties that have been designed not just to bring Palestinians to their knees but to wipe us from this earth.

We cling to our faith in this holy month as a means of holding ourselves and each other together while the world forsakes us, our lives and our rights in our greatest moment of need.

It will take all my might not to scream my prayers this Ramadan. But I have hope that justice will soon prevail.

I will pray that Palestinians finally enjoy protection from genocide under international law.

I will pray for our right to speak for our besieged land and our broken people, and for Palestinian cries for justice to finally be heeded.

I will pray that the rest of the world sees the tenacity, courage, compassion and strength in the plight of Palestinians as they face their 76th year of Israeli oppression, and that the world finds in this strength the inspiration to break the bonds of all forms of oppression, forever.

I will pray that, if my community’s calls for humanity and mercy are ignored by the international community and my own government, that God will intervene to save the people of Gaza.

As Ramadan nears, the boulder in the pit of my stomach grows and grieves me.

And I thank God for that grief because it reminds me of my own humanity in a world that seems to have lost all semblance of its own compassion.

A short version of this article appeared first in Guardian Australia (Sunday 10 March 2024).
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2024/mar/09/how-can-i-sit-down-for-a-ramadan-feast-while-my-loved-ones-in-gaza-find-no-respite-from-their-imposed-starvation

  • Ramia Abdo-Sultan is a lawyer, an executive committee member of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, Community Relations Advisor to the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) and a director of Gaza Children’s Fund.
  • GCF is still on the ground providing meals and emergency relief to those currently seeking shelter in Rafah. Food supplies and other items are being sourced out, at inflated prices due to limited supplies, but GCF is doing whatever is needed to help displaced families and individuals.
  • The link to a donations page and website is www.gazachildrensfund.org. And / or bank details are: Gaza Children’s Fund: BSB: 062032, Acct No. 10209654