Stallholders spread out their wares along the otherwise car-packed streets of Gaza City’s old market on Wednesday ahead of Eid al-Adha (Celebration of the Sacrifice) despite inclement weather.
They were busy selling traditional Eid fare: brightly packaged chocolates, date biscuits and other sweets, children’s clothing, toys, meat, and salted fish, known as fseekh.
Many traders say they hope trade this Eid, as opposed to Eid al-Fitr a few months ago, will be brisker after the government recently distributed pay cheques to about 70,000 civil servants, ranging in amount from $200 to $400.
The ministry of finance began to distribute public sector salaries in full on December 25 to those employees who had not received the funds via a deal brokered with the European Union.
Tens of thousands of Palestinian civil servants have received only part of their salaries since Hamas took office in March due to a Western aid boycott and Israel’s refusal to transfer tax revenues owed to the Palestinian Authority amounting to about $52 million monthly.
One shopkeeper said: “If you asked me one week go, I would have said forget it, I might as well close shop. But now, people have some money to spend, and what better time to spend it than Eid?
“At the same time, with the ongoing closures, everything is more expensive now for us, the sellers, and for the consumer, so people will not be buying in as large amounts as before.”
According to the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs, Israel has allowed, on average, 12 out of a promised 400 trucks a day to pass through Gaza’s major commercial crossing, al-Mintar (Karni), since the beginning of the year.
As a result, the price of goods in Gaza has been driven up due to a scarcity in supply.
|“This Eid is not really an Eid”
One shopper, casually picking through a selection of plastic guns at a toy shop full of glum shoppers, said: “For men, Eid is a huge loss, between buying a sheep for slaughter, new clothes and gifts for the children, and sweets for the guests. We try to make ends meet here and there so the kids can be happy.”
Abu Mustafa, a taxi driver, keeps his checked headdress wrapped around his face to ward off the winter chill as he manoeuvres round Gaza’s busy city centre souks.
“This Eid is not really an Eid,” he says.
“It might have the look and showiness of Eid, but it certainly does not have the feel of Eid.
“There isn’t a household that’s not affected by the situation in one way or another, whether that situation is the international siege, or the infighting.
“Sure there is a calm now, but it’s fleeting. Believe me, things could explode again at any moment, both internally and with Israel.
One of his passengers said: “The word optimism no longer exists in our vocabulary.”
Mohammad Hinbawi, a street vendor who has been selling homemade sweets for more than 20 years, disagrees.
“As long as we have this to eat, we’re OK,” he said, waiving a sesame sweet decisively with his hand.
|Men buy toys for
the children in their family
“Sure the situation is hard, but we continue to have faith and patience in God and in our government. They have not been given a chance, so we cannot blame them.”
Groups of women resolutely scurried to buy new Eid clothes for their children.
Mariam Abo Odeh, 42, said: “No matter what’s happening, Eid is at the very least a welcome break from our tortuous routine.
“The market comes alive, and some excitement and happiness fills the air. That in and of itself is enough.”
Nearby, women farmers sat on the ground behind a spread of their day’s harvest of mint, rocket and dill.
“God willing, it will be a pleasant Eid. Our life is difficult, but the calm is reassuring. Let’s hope it stays that way.”
Meanwhile, thousands of Palestinian men, women and children stand waiting in poor weather for entry into Gaza on the Egyptian side of the Rafah crossing, the only passage in and out of Gaza.
The crossing has been closed by Israel since late June 2006, opening only erratically since – and for just nine hours during the past three weeks – leaving Palestinian passengers stranded on either side.
Photographs by Laila el-Haddad