During Ramadan, Israel Seems to Relish Attacking Palestinians

Ramadan is the most important holiday in the Islamic calendar. But for Palestinian Muslims, Ramadan is characterized by constant harassment, attacks, and brutal violence by Israel.

Israeli security forces question a Palestinian man as crowds make their way through the Israeli Qalandia checkpoint in the occupied West Bank to attend Friday prayer during Ramadan. (Abbas Momani / AFP via Getty Images)

No matter where I am in the world, I have always celebrated Ramadan. I remember being surrounded by my Palestinian family in America and gorging myself on food before putting our meal to the side once we heard the calls to prayer at sunrise. Ramadan is so much more than the simple act of fasting, it’s a remembrance of our faith and our people.

Starting on Saturday, April 2, hundreds of millions of Muslims worldwide embarked on Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, celebrated by consuming no food or water from sunrise to sunset. But for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, celebrating this highest of holidays can only be done through immense difficulties.

Surrounded by towering walls of barbed wire, the people of Gaza live every day enclosed in what many have referred to as “the world’s largest open-air prison.” Since the illegal Israeli blockade in June 2010, which prevents Gazans from leaving the city and prevents any international support from arriving there, the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has grown severe. Half of Gaza’s 1.8 million people are children, all of whom are subjected to Israel’s imprisonment; 38 percent of Gazans live in poverty, 54 percent are food insecure; and 35 percent of Gaza’s farmland is totally or partially inaccessible due to the occupation. And Israel doesn’t let up for Ramadan.

During Ramadan in 2014, the occupation dropped two hundred eighty bombs on the Gazan population, primarily in residential areas, killing over five hundred children. The killings do not stop for prayer. Unlike in Israel, there is no Iron Dome, Israel’s all-weather air defense force (heavily paid for by US taxpayer dollars) to protect the people of Gaza. At a time when the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer, and children’s laughs should have filled the streets at night, they were instead paraded by the sounds of death.

Since then, Israel has steadily cracked down on all forms of Palestinian Muslim worship. Last year, Israel increased its surveillance of Palestinians by requiring soldiers to “tag” Palestinians to track and monitor them. This policy has heightened the use of military checkpoints by stationing more soldiers at them and preventing Palestinians’ entry for no reason, and prevented Palestinians from accessing the Al-Aqsa Mosque — the third-holiest site in Islam — during Ramadan.

Each year, Israel routinely provokes Palestinians who are worshiping right before Ramadan. Last year, Israeli soldiers stormed the Aqsa, kicking out worshipers, throwing tear gas, and committing acts of violence; these events at the Aqsa during Ramadan led to a violent war in Gaza. Israel knows that an influx of Muslims from throughout Palestine are visiting places of worship like the Al-Aqsa Mosque, so they tear gas visitors outside the Mosque or simply prevent people from entering through the Damascus Gate.

The purpose of this violence is to make the lives of Palestinians difficult. This, of course, angers Palestinians who travel through countless checkpoints to practice their faith, yet are denied entry at the gate while soldiers point their guns at them — and simultaneously allow illegal settlers to roam freely.

This violence has continued this year. Just last week, a deaf eleven-year-old girl was hospitalized after being injured by a stun grenade while preparing for Ramadan.

The lives of Palestinians in cities like Jerusalem are filled with checkpoints, walls, patrols, and military posts which restrict their human right to movement. During Ramadan, these checkpoints become even more tiresome. Since they are observing the holiday, these Palestinians are without food or water; they are then herded like cattle, often intimidated by the occupation forces, denied entry to certain cities of the West Bank, or taken in for interrogation. A Palestinian who works in the city of Nablus could be denied entry on their way home to a neighboring city of Ramallah; in that case, he would be forced to turn around and break his fast away from home.

Israeli night raids have also become increasingly popular during Ramadan. The Israeli Occupation Forces have been conducting night raids on Palestinian towns since 1967, either in hopes of disorienting families while attempting to demolish their homes or to dismantle their movements toward liberation. Night raids do not stop during Ramadan; whether in a mosque or at home, soldiers terrorize Palestinian families before, during, and after their fast — or in the middle of the night while Muslims pray recitations of the Quran.

On top of the physical brutality of occupation, Israel controls the vast majority of Palestinian water, and Israeli settlers burn farmland and olive trees with the support of the occupation military. Medjool dates, which are sourced from Palestinian-owned farms in Jericho, are often stolen by the occupation, repackaged, and marketed as “authentic Israeli dates.” Dates are the cornerstone of how Muslims break their fast globally, for they are believed to be how the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) broke his fast. While fasting and awaiting the sunset, Palestinians do not have access to food, water, or the produce from the land.

Ramadan after Ramadan, the people of Palestine are tested. But the Palestinian spirit will outlive the occupation. I often imagine what Ramadan would look like if Palestine were never occupied. Gaza’s water would not be contaminated; hundreds of children would not be illegally incarcerated during the holy month; schools, homes, and mosques would never have been demolished; and the Palestinian people would have the full freedom to practice their faith.