With little food, families in Gaza break Ramadan fast with what they can


As the sun sets on the Deir el Balah neighbourhood in the southern tip of the Gaza Strip, Abu Mustafa Naji and his wife move slowly through the silence around them. Neither speaks as they set a small wooden table down on a slab of concrete — possibly a piece from what was once a wall of the home they shared in this exact spot. 

Mustafa, 55, said he built the home with his own hands, “stone by stone.” It was bombed on Oct. 10, only three days into the Israel-Hamas war. 

“As you can see the destruction … and what happened in the area,” he said. “Everything is gone. 

“Our dream is gone…. There is absolutely nothing left.”

But on Wednesday, the third day of Ramadan, the only sound from the war that can be heard is the buzzing from drones flying above them. Naji set two stones down on the slab as seats for him and his wife, before they broke the day’s fast with a meagre meal: A hummus mix, a small bowl of diced cucumbers, sliced tomatoes and some bread. The couple eats in total silence, surrounded by remnants of their home and memories of past Ramadan celebrations. 

The Najis are among countless Muslims scraping enough food together for iftar, the sunset fast-breaking meal marking the end of the day’s fast, as supplies in the besieged enclave run dangerously low during Ramadan, a holy month where millions of Muslims around the world fast from sunrise to sunset as a form of worship. 

A man and a woman eat at a table on top of rubble.
Abu Mustafa Naji and his wife find comfort in being home, although it is now a pile of rubble, where they can break their fast in the evening for Ramadan. (Mohamed El Saife/CBC News)

As night sets in, Naji and his wife save the last of their food for the pre-dawn meal they will have in a few hours’ time before another day of fasting begins. He said they stay with the rubble of their old home because they have no better option.

“Where can we go?” he told CBC News in an interview. “We either go to the street and have iftar there with our children, or we have iftar on the rubble, and what’s safest for us is to have iftar on the rubble.”

Remnants of their past life are still visible — from the burnt palm trees that once stood outside their home to the twisted metal of their old plumbing — but Naji said this Ramadan doesn’t compare to those of the past.

WATCH | Couple breaks fast the best they can with remaining food in Gaza:

Nothing about Ramadan to celebrate for this couple in Gaza

As Abu Mustafa Naji and his wife break their daily fast for Ramadan, they have nothing but a pile of rubble to sit on and a memory of their house that no longer stands. For them, it is Ramadan in name only, as the war across Gaza between Israel and Hamas has left no spirit of celebration or generosity in its wake.

“It’s just Ramadan on the calendar,” he said. “But in reality, in the Gaza Strip, there’s no Ramadan, no pre-dawn meal, no iftar. 

“No dignified life, because we are dying slowly.”

‘People are starving’

Food in the Gaza Strip has been very difficult to come by since Israel launched its offensive on the region following the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7. The surprise assault left some 1,200 civilians dead in Israel and saw hundreds of hostages taken to Gaza, according to Israeli numbers. 

As of Tuesday, Gaza health officials say Israel’s military campaign has killed more than 31,000 people and displaced nearly two million more.

Juliette Touma, communications director for UNRWA, the main relief agency for Palestinians, said the food supply crisis is reaching a critical point. 

“There is a fast and growing humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and the war is entering its sixth month. The humanitarian conditions there are absolutely appalling in parts of Gaza and especially in the north. People are starving,” she told CBC’s Power and Politics.

Touma said Gaza has been stripped of essential life supplies, aid trucks that enter are swarmed by people and airdrops have led to death as the desperation grows among people looking for food and water. 

“Right now in Gaza, there is no stores, no shops, no pharmacies, no food stalls,” she said. “There is an entire reliance on humanitarian operations of a whole population and that’s absolutely unsustainable.”

‘We will fast despite the difficult circumstances’

In some religions, there is a provision allowing families to skip fasting to protect their health. Muslims, for example, can miss fasting if sick, pregnant, nursing or other health reasons. But there is no provision allowing for people to miss fast in times of war, unless gravely ill. Families must fast the month of Ramadan as part of the five pillars of Islam.

So despite their circumstances, many Gazans are fasting — even as they may not have much to eat to begin with.

Over in the West Bank, the grand mufti of Al-Ram explained the importance of keeping fast despite the conflict. 

“Ramadan will arrive and we will welcome Ramadan, and we will fast, God willing, despite the difficult circumstances,’ Sheikh Muhammad Hussein told CBC News. “We ask God that this fasting is an aid to us during these difficult times.”

As the Najis break their fast on the rubble of their former home, the atmosphere of the month feels far from celebratory.

“This is not Ramadan, this is the month of death,” Mustafa Naji said. “This is not the month of generosity.

“This is the month of death for us.”

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