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In Bethlehem, no one is in the mood to celebrate Eid

Commentary: Death and body counts coming out of Gaza have become a part of the daily rhythm in the West Bank. It’s as if Eid is intruding upon this catastrophe, not the other way around.
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(Emily Judem/GlobalPost)

BETHLEHEM, Palestine — It is the last day of Eid Al-Fitr.

Monday, the first day of a three-day celebration to end Ramadan, the month where Muslims fast from sun-up to sun-down, was marked by eerie silence and glum faces in Bethlehem. There were no fireworks illuminating the evening sky as is the custom during the end of Ramadan. The only light that came during Eid was from the candles that Palestinians lit in Bethlehem’s Aida refugee camp in memory of the some 200 children that were killed by the Israeli army in Gaza during the now 23-day onslaught.

On Tuesday, the second day of Eid, I walked into a fruit market in BeitSahour, a suburb of Bethlehem, expecting to see people buying fruits and vegetables by the armload for the second day of feasting. Three people lingered, haphazardly picking vegetables, their eyes glued to the television set on the wall above them.

Grisly images illuminated the screen. The images are from Gaza, a mere 78 kilometers away from here. Bodies strewn in hospitals, blood spattered walls in houses. Lifeless children being carried by paramedics and family members, rubble and rocks and piles and piles of smoldering clothes and belongings in neighborhoods that had been shelled by the Israeli army. The man behind the counter stares up at the television, while taking a drag from his water-pipe, before exhaling slowly.

“Did you see the news? They killed 100 people… more children,” he said.

His voice is steady and the tone he uses is the same tone he uses for saying hello or asking a customer how they are doing. Death and body counts have become a part of the daily rhythm in the West Bank. It’s as if the Eid is the intruder into this catastrophe, not the other way around.

In the evening, the streets should be crowded and noisy. Families and friends should be calling out to each other, children should be scurrying in between their parents, balloons in their hands, munching on sweets and showing off their new wardrobes to friends and family. The women should be in their newest stilettos and straight-from-the-store jeans and bright blouses, with plenty of flashy, thick necklaces and chunky, glittery watches, arm-in-arm with their husbands.

Men should be clean-shaven, with mousse and gelled hair, showing off their biceps in their just-bought T-shirts and form-fitting jeans. It should be like this, but it’s not.

A few families stroll along the sidewalks, the only gleeful shout is that from a young boy to his siblings.

“Look, look, a rocket!” he yells.

At that moment, a rocket launched from Gaza that was flying over the illegal settlement of Gush Etzion, about 25 kilometers away from Bethlehem, was intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system.

The few faces that I see on the streets are not glowing or joyful. They are tired and exasperated. They are tired and exasperated from the screams of pain and anguish that mothers and fathers in Gaza feel.

They are tired and exasperated from the blood and brains and bodies and limbs that fill the television screens during the news. They are tired and exasperated from seeing the deaths of their fellow countrymen go from 100 to 300 to 700 to 1,000, and now to more than 1,200, with the toll still rising.

But most of all, they are tired and exasperated from the helplessness they are condemned to at the hands of the brutal and unrelenting Israeli occupation which has killed over 1,200 Palestinians, three quarters of which, according to UNICEF have been civilians.

However, the blood from Gaza had run into the streets of the West Bank, demonstrating to the world and to Palestinians, Gaza and the West Bank, was not two separate entities and would not be kept apart. A week before the Eid started the most violent of clashes in Bethlehem and around the West Bank occurred all most each night between Palestinians and the Israeli army.

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A masked Palestinian youth gets ready to throw a lit Molotov cocktail at the Israeli army tower in front of him on Friday, July 25, 2014, declared a "Day of Rage" by media stations and politicians alike in the West Bank.
( Anna Ferensowicz /GlobalPost)

On Wednesday, July 23, two men from the village of Husan, west of Bethlehem, were killed by live ammunition fired by Israeli forces to quell a protest there. Muhammad Qasim Hamamra, 19, died after the Israelis shot him in the head during a protest. His cousin, Mahmoud Hamamra, 32, was shot in the chest also by live fire from the Israelis. He also died. The next night saw the largest demonstration in decades and had many Palestinians wondering if a third intifada was being born.

Thursday, July 24, is the most holy night of the year for Muslims. On Laylat al-Qadr, also known as the night of decree or destiny, Muslims pray all night, believing that in this window of time Allah will grant all prayers. On this night, tens of thousands of Palestinians gathered from the surrounding areas of Ramallah and marched towards the Israeli military checkpoint that separates Ramallah from Eastern Jerusalem. During the day Israelis had blocked the entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque to Muslims, only allowing men over 50 to entire the holy site. That night, another 19-year-old, Mohammad al-Araj was shot dead for Israeli forces.

On Friday July 25, the last Friday of Ramadan, the entire West Bank was marching for Gaza. Bethlehem was not to be outdone.

Bethlehemites took to the streets that night after evening prayers, marching from the surrounding camps of Aida, Azzeh, and Dhiesha refugee camps in Bethlehem, towards the massive concrete barrier and Israeli military checkpoint and watchtower, also known as Checkpoint 300.

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An Israeli soldier is directly in the path of where a Molotov cocktail was thrown by masked Palestinian youth towards soldiers and an army jeep on Friday, July 25, 2014, which was declared a "Day of Rage" by media stations and politicians alike in the West Bank.
( Anna Ferensowicz /GlobalPost)

Masked Palestinian men pelted the hated wall and watchtower, the most infamous and obvious symbol of the Israeli military occupation, with rocks. They threw Molotov cocktails and exploded firecrackers. In each protest across the West Bank, Israeli soldiers responded fiercely with volleys of tear gas from an army jeep, individual tear gas canisters fired directly into protesters, rubber bullets, and live ammunition fire. Within three days, 10 West Bank Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army, all of whom were marching in solidarity with Gaza.

It is now the last day of Eid.

The death toll in Gaza has risen to 1,238 Palestinians. In the early morning hours, Israelis shelled yet another United Nations school that was designated as a safe place for all ready displaced peoples. Sixteen people were killed. In the afternoon there was hope when Israel declared a 4-hour humanitarian ceasefire from 3 to 7 p.m., local time. It was quickly shattered when the Israeli army shelled a home in Beit Lahiya, killing five people.

And so, this is the manner in which Eid in Gaza and the West Bank has come and gone.

Anna Ferensowicz is a freelance foreign correspondent living in the Bethlehem and working for Al Jazeera Plus Labs (AJ + Labs).

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This piece is part of a new GlobalPost Special Reports/Commentary initiative supported by the Ford Foundation called "VOICES." The mission of VOICES is to present the ideas and opinions of those who are less frequently heard in the media, including women, people of color, sexual minorities, citizens of the developing world and young people. These voices will consistently discuss topics important to GlobalPost Special Reports including human rights, religious issues, global health, economic inequality and democracies in transition.

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