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Ramadan on zero

Ramadan on zero

While some extra goods are now available to people in Gaza, few have the money to buy them, writes Saleh Al-Naami

 

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 Click to view caption

One of Gaza markets filled with Ramadan goods

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Mohamed Nassar, 49, was astounded and at a loss as he walked through Al-Zawya market in the heart of Gaza City. He was amazed at the large variety of products on sale, and confused because with little money he was unsure what he could afford from the shopping list his wife gave him in preparation for Ramadan. Nassar, father of four, is a repairman who works on refrigerators and air conditioners with an income of about 1,500 shekels ($400) a month.

 

He pays $150 in rent and told Al-Ahram Weekly, "To be honest, I only have 600 shekels, which needs to last until the end of the month. I am thinking of buying some Ramadan goods, such as cheese and canned food, with a third of this money. The market is very tempting this year and has many new products." He quickly adds, "This month will be especially hard because expenses are usually high and it is followed by Eid [the Islamic holiday after Ramadan]. I hope charities will be more attentive to the needs of low-income families because we cannot afford this."

 

When you stroll through the markets of Gaza in the last week of Shaaban, a few days before the fasting month begins, one sees a variety of foods, such as dairy products, household items, and other Ramadan specials. What is surprising is how competitive everyone is about buying these goods, especially that many of these items were banned from entering for many years, as part of the siege on Gaza.

 

Merchants and shop owners have been working for two months to meet the demands of the people of Gaza who have craved many foods over the past few years. Ramadan decorations have even gone up, raising the spirits of the people.

 

"This year, merchants have prepared well for Ramadan," Abu Youssef Al-Darqotni, 55, a grocer in Gaza City told the Weekly. "They have prepared themselves and brought goods which they haven't seen since the beginning of the blockade. The shops are ready to sell everything you need for Ramadan." But Al-Darqotni also expressed his fears that people will not be able to afford the products brought in for Ramadan. He stated that people's purchasing power remains weak, "despite the slight easing" of the siege after world pressure mounted in the wake of the Israeli massacre on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship that was part of the Free Gaza Flotilla.

 

In Al-Sheikh Radwan district, north of Gaza City, a group of children are standing outside a shop selling Ramadan toys, looking at the goods, especially the Ramadan lanterns. Some of them bargain with the shop owner over the prices, which have already dropped considerably. The children are hoping that their parents will buy these lanterns for them at the beginning of the holy month, so they can play and have fun like other children.

 

Hassan Zeineddin, a toy vendor, stated that Israel allowed large volumes of toys to enter Gaza and which have flooded the markets and caused prices to drop. "During the worst years of the siege, trade was almost at a standstill because good quality products were not allowed through, and all that was available were poor quality goods smuggled through the tunnels," stated Zeineddin. "We expect more of this during Ramadan."

 

FASTING WITHOUT ELECTRICITY: Gaza residents fear that power shortages will continue during Ramadan. "Ramadan will be very difficult if blackouts continue," asserted Nader Qonita, 35, who lives in Al-Tifah district in Gaza City. "Will we break our fast in candlelight? Will we be able to bear fasting in the heat of summer without air conditioning? If this continues, then fasting will be very tough."

 

He added that despite the surge in goods on the market, "we are worried to buy anything because it will spoil without refrigerators because of the lack of electricity. We hope that officials will keep that in mind, so that we can welcome the month of Ramadan with joy, as we always do." Qonita told the Weekly that his family is ready to begin the holy month, and he is focussing on buying canned food that will not spoil if there is a power outage.

 

Despite all the goods being sold in Gaza, financial and economic conditions for most families are poor because of extensive unemployment resulting from Israel's blockade on Gaza imposed since Hamas won legislative elections four years ago.

 

Nahed Afana, 38, told the Weekly that conditions at border crossings have improved, but people's lives have not because the blockade has rendered many jobless, and now they live on aid from relief agencies, charities and the government. Afana, who is in the low-income bracket, stated that many people are disheartened when they go shopping, especially during Ramadan, because they cannot afford any of the goods.

 

"We are worried that this season will be a loss to us, especially since the people's economic situations have not yet improved," said Mazen Al-Dalu, a grocer at Al-Zawya market. "These days, sales are low, but acceptable. We fear, however, that sales will not pick up, even during the first days of Ramadan." Al-Dalu noted that the siege was only partially lifted, and mainly focused on foodstuffs that do not offer work opportunities for most workers, unlike if raw materials had been allowed in. Had the occupation allowed the passage of raw materials two months ago, he explained, the volume of trade would have been much greater.

 

"Ramadan is one of the best seasons for the sale of food products," economist Omar Shaaban explained to the Weekly. "But because of Israel's blockade and economic conditions, sales may not be as high as they used to be before the siege." Shaaban continued that the Gaza Strip "needs to import more products, especially raw materials for factories to provide employment for many, in order for the people and merchants to be happier."

 

He called on vendors to keep in mind that customers are cash strapped, and recommended they drop prices, especially in Ramadan. Shaaban expected that Ramadan sales this year would be no different from previous years because of the siege, unemployment and the drop in income.

 

RAMADAN ASSISTANCE: Many Palestinians rely on handouts from charities in the Gaza Strip, especially after unemployment levels went through the roof. Several charities have sponsored Ramadan assistance projects, including food baskets, food stamps and purchasing stamps, which target poor and needy families in the Gaza Strip.

 

"This aid meets an urgent need as the holy month of Ramadan approaches, especially that economic conditions continue to deteriorate for the residents of Gaza as a result of Israel's unjust siege of our people for more than four years," Nassim Al-Zaaneen, a member of Gaza Gives Society which is sponsoring the "Ramadan Kheir" campaign for poor and needy families, told the Weekly. Al-Zaaneen continued that charities are making a huge effort to carry out transparent and accurate surveys, to ensure that assistance reaches those who deserve it.

 

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social Affairs in Gaza announced a relief campaign that will provide assistance to some 70,000 families in Gaza by giving them $50 each. "So far, we have given money to nearly 45,000 families, and the campaign will continue until this reaches all the targeted families during the holy month," Minister of Social Affairs Ahmed Al-Kurd told the Weekly. Al-Kurd stated that the money is being distributed in coordination with tens of charities working in the Gaza Strip, to ensure that assistance reaches all segments of society.

 

He added that the Ramadan charity campaign has the full support of the Palestinian government in Gaza, and revealed that his ministry intends to distribute financial aid during Ramadan to families that are suffering the most, as well as the unemployed who lost their jobs because of the blockade.

 

It seems that Ramadan this year will not be very different from those in the past three years. The Palestinians will continue to live in need under crushing conditions of deprivation

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/1011/re2.htm.

 

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