Four days after the start of the holy month of Ramadan this April, Israeli warplanes began pounding the encaged and blockaded Palestinian enclave of Gaza, carrying out multiple bombing raids over two consecutive days against what it claimed without evidence to be “terror targets.”
“We strongly condemn Israel’s airstrike on Gaza during the [Muslim] holy month of Ramadan,” said Turkey’s presidential spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin on April 16, echoing similar calls from leaders throughout the Muslim world.
In a world filled with unpredictable and unforeseeable events, Israeli military attacks on the Gaza Strip during Ramadan has reached the level of predictable certainty, as illustrated in the following headlines:
“In Gaza, Air Strikes and Economic Stress Make an Anxious Ramadan” (2014); “Israel Report: Settlers Planning Attacks on Palestinians in Ramadan” (2017); “Four Palestinians Killed and 600 Injured in Protests Along the Border, Marking Last Weekend of Ramadan” (2018); “Israel’s Ramadan Blitz in Gaza Kills More than 20 Palestinians” (2019); and “On Last Friday of Ramadan, Israeli Soldiers Attack Palestinian Worshippers Near Al-Aqsa” (2020).
In the wake of the strike, a photo showing a Palestinian family breaking their Ramadan fast from the ruins of their home, which had been destroyed by Israeli warplanes, went viral on social media. The image brought into view a single example of the kind of misery and hardship that Israeli siege and blockade has brought upon 2 million inhabitants of Gaza, or what has been accurately described as the “world’s largest concentration camp.”
For Palestinians, the month of Ramadan also delivers a traumatic reminder of family members and friends lost and injured during the Israeli military’s most recent invasion of Gaza. The attack was launched at the start of the Muslim holy month in 2014, resulting in the death of more than 2,200 Palestinians, along with permanent injuries inflicted upon more than 10,000 others over 53 bloody days.
The attack launched at the start of the Muslim holy month in 2014, resulted in the death of more than 2,200 Palestinians.
The damage enacted upon Gaza’s infrastructure and economy was just as devastating, leaving more than 10,000 homes completely destroyed, along with structural damage to another 100,000. Gaza’s only power station was struck by Israeli missiles, as were 24 medical facilities, while more than 400 businesses were completely wiped out.
Though shocking, the extreme devastation was also to be expected, given the Israeli military boasted that “390,000 tank shells, 34,000 artillery shells, and 4.8 million bullets were supplied during the fighting.” This arsenal of weaponry represents almost two bullets for every Palestinian in Gaza and the ordinance power of 13,000 tons of high-explosive trinitrotoluene (TNT) – the equivalent of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
It has left Gaza completely “unliveable,” according to the United Nations.
“With an economy in free fall, 70 percent youth unemployment, widely contaminated drinking water and a collapsed health care system, Gaza has become unliveable,” Michael Lynk, the Special Rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian Territories told the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian, and Cultural) in 2018, while urging Israel to bring an end to “this disaster.”
Ibrahim al-Masri’s wife and three children were killed when an Israeli warplane bombed their home while they were preparing to break their fast during Ramadan in 2014. The following year he told the Arab Weekly that the holy month “is the hardest because my family is not with me anymore,” saying, “We were sitting in peace at home and we didn’t cause any danger to the Israelis.”
His story echoes those told by thousands of Palestinians who have had to bury their spouse, children, parents, siblings, and members of their extended family in recent years.
In 2018 alone, Israeli snipers killed 190 Palestinians and wounded 28,000 protesters who participated in the Great Return protests along the Gaza border. The deadliest day occurred just two days prior to the start of Ramadan, in which 68 unarmed protesters were shot and killed on May 14, 2018.
When Israeli warplanes pounded the Strip on the eve of Ramadan in 2019, a total of 19 Palestinians were killed, with more than 130 homes completely destroyed and another 700 partially damaged, resulting in more than US$5 million in total property damages.
Shortly after this attack, Najla Shawa, a Palestinian mother of two young daughters, explained to me the emotional and physical stress Israeli bombing campaigns exact against the Gazan population. “The noises of bombing and expectations of the next airstrike make life really difficult…strikes by F-16 [hitting] just 100 meters away from you is not an easy experience,” she stated.
“The noises of bombing and expectations of the next airstrike make life really difficult…strikes by F-16 [hitting] just 100 meters away from you is not an easy experience.”
“Whenever there is any kind of military activity…I’m still not at the stage of explaining this to my daughters, so I tell them that this [airstrikes] is thunder or fireworks,” she added.
Israeli military attacks on Gaza at the start of Ramadan this year represent a continuation of the unnecessary cruelty the Israeli government inflicts upon a population that is completely cut off from the outside world and presents no threat to ordinary Israelis – but cruelty is the point.
Cruelty is how Israel reminds the Palestinians that it controls all aspects of their daily lives and denies them basic rights, including the right to celebrate the holy month of Ramadan in peace.