By Ramzy Baroud
The number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in Palestine, especially in Gaza, has reached record highs this month, largely due to the arrival of a greatly contagious variant that was first identified in the UK.
Gaza has always been vulnerable to this deadly pandemic. Under a hermetic Israeli blockade since 2006, the densely populated Gaza Strip lacks basic services like clean water, electricity and minimally equipped hospitals. Therefore, long before COVID-19 ravaged many parts of the world, Palestinians in Gaza were dying as a result of easily treatable diseases such as diarrhea, salmonella and typhoid fever.
Needless to say, Gaza’s cancer patients have little fighting chance, as the besieged Strip is left without many lifesaving medications. Many Palestinian cancer patients continue to cling to the hope that Israel’s military authorities will allow them access to the better-equipped West Bank hospitals. Alas, death often arrives before the long-awaited Israeli permit.
The tragedy in Gaza — in fact in all of occupied Palestine — is long and painful. Still, it ought not to be classified as another sad occasion that invokes much despair but little action. In fact, the struggle of the Palestinians is integral to a larger struggle for fundamental human rights that can be witnessed throughout the Middle East, which makes it, according to a recent Carnegie Corporation report, the most economically unequal region in the world.
From Libya to Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and many other parts of the Arab and Muslim worlds, the dual tragedy of war and want is a scathing reminder of the price ordinary people pay for frivolous power struggles that yield nothing but greater uncertainty and hatred.
Once more, the holy month of Ramadan visits the Ummah while its tragedies are still festering — new conflicts, unfinished wars, an ever-expanding death toll and a never-ending stream of refugees. Sadly, not even Ramadan, a month associated with peace, mercy and unity, is enough to bring about a fleeting moment of tranquility or a respite from hunger and war for numerous Muslim communities around the world.
In Palestine, the Israeli occupation often takes even more sinister turns during this month, as if to intentionally compound the suffering felt by Palestinians. Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, the grand mufti of Jerusalem and preacher at Al-Aqsa Mosque, last week called on Arabs and Muslims to intervene so that Israel has to cease its harassment of Palestinians at the holy shrines of Al-Quds. Aside from increased attacks by Israeli extremists, who are now storming Al-Aqsa Mosque significantly more often than ever before, the Israeli occupation authorities have “removed the doors of the mosque’s minarets, cut the electrical wires of loudspeakers to prevent the adhan (call to prayer) and seized iftar meals, in addition to threatening to storm the mosque on the final days of the holy month of Ramadan,” Sheikh Hussein said.
Israel fully comprehends the spiritual connection that Palestinians, whether Muslim or Christian, have to their religious symbols. For Muslims, this rapport is further accentuated during Ramadan. Severing this connection is equal to breaking the collective spirit of the Palestinian people.
These are only a few examples of a multifaceted and deeply rooted tragedy felt by most Palestinians. Numerous similar stories, though of different political and spatial contexts, are communicated every day throughout the Muslim world. Yet there is no meaningful discussion of a collective remedy, a strategy or a thoughtful answer.
Ramadan is intended to be a time when Muslims are united on the basis of wholly different criteria: Where political and ideological differences disappear in favor of spiritual unity, which is expressed in fasting, prayer, charity and kindness. Unfortunately, what we are witnessing is not Ramadan as it was intended to be, but different manifestations of the holy month, each catering to a different class — a painful but true expression of the disunity and inequality that have afflicted the Ummah.
In the Ramadan of Palestine, Sudan and Yemen, of the Syrian refugee camps and on the dinghies dotting the Mediterranean, there is little hope for a better future. Here, Ramadan is a stream of prayers that the world, and especially their Muslim brethren, might come to their rescue. For them, there is little entertainment because there is no electricity and there are no massive iftar feasts because there is no money.
“Dua” is Arabic for supplication. For the oppressed, dua is the last resort; at times, even a weapon against oppression in all its forms. This is why we often see bereaved Muslims raising their open palms to the sky. Ramadan is the month where the poor, destitute and oppressed raise their hands to Heaven, beseeching God to hear their prayers.
They are reassured by such Hadiths — the sayings of Prophet Muhammad — as this: “The supplications of three persons are never turned away: A fasting person until he breaks his fast, a just ruler, and the supplication of the oppressed which is raised by Allah above the clouds, the gates of Heaven are opened for it, and the Lord says: By my might, I will help you in due time.”
There has never been a more critical time for the Ummah to work together and heal its collective wounds, uplift its downtrodden, care for its poor, embrace its refugees and fight for its oppressed. Many Muslim communities around the world are aching and their pain is unbearable. Perhaps this Ramadan can serve as the opportunity for social justice to be finally enacted and for the oppressed to be heard so that their hymn of torment and hope may rise above the clouds.