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What Eid al-Fitr looks like in West Bank and Gaza this year


Today, Muslims around the world begin the festival which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan. It's three days of meals and reunions with friends and family. But Palestinians are finding it difficult to celebrate this year because of the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. NPR's Rob Schmitz reports.

ROB SCHMITZ, BYLINE: Rafe Rummaneh is covered in flour. He sifts cups of it over circles of dough and then flattens them with a rolling pin. It's the first step in making the multilayered pastries he's become famous for here in the Al-Am'ari refugee camp in Ramallah.


SCHMITZ: The last step - pouring syrup over a tray of the golden, pudding-filled pastries just out of the oven. Palestinians here in the occupied West Bank typically line up to buy these to celebrate Eid, the breaking of the monthlong dawn-to-sunset fasting of Ramadan.


SCHMITZ: But this year, there's no line and barely any pastries. This is the only batch he's making, a pistachio-laced gesture for a few friends.

RAFE RUMMANEH: (Through interpreter) This year, we are limiting Eid to just religious and ritualistic activities. My family won't eat sweets like these. It's the smallest gesture we can offer our people in Gaza who are being killed and whose homes have been destroyed. How can we possibly celebrate?

SCHMITZ: Next door at the camp's hardware store, owner Younis Abu Murad is in no mood to celebrate either.

YOUNIS ABU MURAD: (Through interpreter) Last night, Israeli soldiers came to our camp and arrested one person. They don't knock. You could be sleeping in bed, and they don't even wait for you to get dressed. They don't want anyone here or in Gaza to feel comfortable.

SCHMITZ: In past years, many Palestinians in the West Bank celebrated Eid by driving through checkpoints to the Mediterranean coast to enjoy the beach. This year, security is tight, and hardly anyone is allowed to cross into Israel. Instead, Israel's military has stepped up early morning raids in West Bank camps like Al-Am'ari looking for militants. Customer Nidal Qatari overhears our conversation. She says her nephew, Mohammed Al-Qatari, was shot in the head and killed three weeks ago in one of these raids, and her grandson was left with bullet wounds in both legs. Israel's military confirmed the death with NPR but wouldn't give details.

NIDEL QATARI: (Through interpreter) What kind of Eid are we going to celebrate when we see our children being killed and when we see destroyed homes in Gaza? How can we eat? We're crying over all of this.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: (Non-English language spoken).

SCHMITZ: Inside Gaza this morning, men prayed in unison to mark the start of Eid. They stood beside the rubble of the Al-Farooq mosque in Rafah, destroyed in an Israeli airstrike, massive cylindrical sections of what was its minaret lying topsy-turvy atop its remains. Worshipper Hani Al-Imam says in past years, he would wake up and pray in his best clothes.

HANI AL-IMAM: (Through interpreter) But now we are forced to wear these displacement clothes we've worn for weeks. And we try to encourage the children to be happy with Eid despite all of this destruction.

SCHMITZ: NPR producer Anas Baba spoke to Al-Imam. in videos he shot from the destroyed mosque, children restlessly climb and play atop the rubble as men pray below. Baba says today's lack of celebrations is hardest on Gaza's children.

ANAS BABA, BYLINE: The children are the most affected by this war. I spotted children who tried to wear the best clothes that they do have but without having boots on or a shoe.

SCHMITZ: Baba said many in Gaza told him they were holding out hope that Eid would bring a cease fire, but that has not materialized.

Back in the Al-Am'ari refugee camp in the West Bank, 77-year-old Younis Taha chats with two friends about the news of the day from Gaza.

YOUNIS TAHA: (Non-English language spoken).

SCHMITZ: "This year for Eid," says Taha, "I'm only offering bitter coffee without sugar. That's what we drink when somebody dies." Taha was born in what is now Israel, but his family was among those forced to flee to the West Bank in 1948. Millions of Gazans are now displaced from their homes, and Taha says he knows how this feels. The pastry-maker, Rafe Rummaneh, says he, too, feels vulnerable in his home. After 40 years of making pastries, he built it without a permit on land administered by Israel. It could be taken away from him anytime.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).

SCHMITZ: His terrace overlooks the city of Ramallah, and midday prayer echoes from a nearby mosque. Rummaneh faces Mecca and prostrates, eyes closed. A boom outside at first sounds like an explosion...


SCHMITZ: ...But it's only the start of a spring thunderstorm. Inside the comfort of his home, it's dry, and it's quiet, a somber start to Eid. Rummaneh prays for his family, his friends and for Gaza. Rob Schmitz, NPR News, Ramallah. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Rob Schmitz is NPR's international correspondent based in Berlin, where he covers the human stories of a vast region reckoning with its past while it tries to guide the world toward a brighter future. From his base in the heart of Europe, Schmitz has covered Germany's levelheaded management of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise of right-wing nationalist politics in Poland and creeping Chinese government influence inside the Czech Republic.