GAZA CITY — War during Ramadan has a particular tension. It is not just the normal anxiety of airstrikes in a crowded city, no matter how carefully Israel tries to target them. But the holy month of Ramadan falls this year in a particularly hot and humid Gaza July, and observant Muslims are fasting, not even drinking water, until sunset and iftar, the evening meal.
In the market of the Jabaliya refugee camp, normally bustling on a Ramadan Friday, most of the shops are shuttered. The conflict aside, the new military-dominated government of Egypt has largely shut the tunnel system that fed the economy (and the rocket-import business, too). In its struggle with the Palestinian Authority, dominated by Fatah, Hamas is running low on cash, so many workers have not been paid, or have been only partly paid, for months now.
Add to that a banking problem that has shut most of the A.T.M.s, and there is little money to spend in one of the most important months of the Islamic year. Then there is the conflict, which may quickly escalate if Israel decides on a large ground operation in Gaza to better destroy the ability of Hamas and other groups, like Islamic Jihad, to launch ever-more sophisticated rockets deeper into Israel.
“Ramadan usually brings every good thing,” said Muhammad Ahmad, whose fruit stall was doing little business. So far on Friday afternoon, he’d taken in only 50 shekels, when normally during Ramadan, he said, he would take in 1,000 shekels a day.
“This war in Gaza has caused a kind of fear and stress and tension,” he said. “People are afraid to go out of their homes.”
The reluctance to spend time in public places is shared now in Israel, too, as the rockets rain down. But Israel is a larger, much more modern polity, which has equipped itself with shelters, air-raid sirens and a missile-defense system.
Gazans are quick to note the disparity in the death tolls from this war, in which more than 100 Palestinians have died, more than half of them civilians, according to the United Nations Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs. One Israeli has died thus far, a woman in Haifa who had a heart attack running to a shelter; an Israeli soldier was in serious condition with shrapnel wounds.
At Gaza’s largest hospital, Al-Shifa, photographers and camera crews waited at the entrance for any ambulance that might roll up with a wounded person. Inside, there were a few men on stretchers, bloody and dotted with shrapnel wounds, and one girl, age 7, who had been severely wounded in an attack on a house in Al-Bureij, in central Gaza. She was brought here as a particularly difficult case, and Dr. Ayman al-Sahbani, the head of the emergency medicine, said she was likely to die.
Dr. Sahbani was upset but professional. He and most of his 10
doctors and 10 nurses had been at the hospital for four days without going home, he said. Al-Shifa has treated about half of the more than 600 Palestinians wounded so far, he said, with some pride. It could cope, he said, “if the fighting does not escalate.”
“We have drugs and consumables for three weeks in normal times,” he said. “Now, we’re reduced, but if it gets worse, with a ground invasion, it could be all gone in a day.” Not that he couldn’t use more doctors and specialist surgeons, he said.
What bothers him is the number of children he has had to treat, he said. “So we hope it will stop. I know this is political, but we doctors think only of humanity, and we see kids crying and wounded or dying, and it has a big psychological impact.”
Like most Gazans, Dr. Sahbani would not fault Hamas but rather “the siege and the occupation.” As a Palestinian Authority employee, he lost his salary when he continued to work in Al-Shifa under the Hamas government, which did pay him, though less. “I’m a doctor and this is an emergency room,” he said. “How could I not work?”
But for the last three months, even he has not been paid.
He has not had permission to leave Gaza for three years, he said. “It’s been more than eight years of siege,” he said, noting shortages “of gasoline, of electricity, of medical supplies and building materials,” let alone the nearly sealed borders. “Now we’re being bombed, and where can we go?” he asked. “There’s nowhere to go.”
It is a plaint heard regularly here, with particular pathos during hostilities. Gazans see themselves as living in a poor territory that nobody cares about, a kind of “prison,” as they like to say, trapped between Israel, an ambivalent or unfriendly Egypt and the closely patrolled sea. Not even fellow Palestinians in the West Bank really care for them, they say.
Of course, they are also prisoners of their situation, both defended and endangered by Hamas and other, more radical Islamic groups, which are devoted to resistance against Israel and thoroughly embedded among the noncombatants of an overcrowded population with no ability to leave.
There is understated criticism of the conflict, though mostly directed at Israel. Nawaf al-Najar, 57, shopping with his wife, Nawal, for groceries for their large family, used to be a construction worker in Israel but is now unemployed. He lives off intermittent charity and United Nations food parcels for refugees, and has trouble finding the money for Nawal’s diabetes medicine.
After blaming Israel for the war and its “imperial policies,” Mr. Najar turned philosophical, and even slightly subversive. “War never achieves political goals, but just destroys the people,” he said. “War is the language of the ignorant, and it is fought by the ignorant.”
But it is not far away. Nearby, on what is known as Intelligence Street, because of the Palestinian Authority intelligence headquarters that once functioned there, young men kicked at broken glass and stared at the remainder of a house struck by an Israeli bombing early Friday. The attack was apparently aimed at the resident of an apartment there, who was killed; the building, which also housed a small grocery store and bakery, was collapsing.
Piles of soot-covered plastic bottles of soda were in the rubble, along with blasted packages of Huggies diapers. One man walked by and said simply: “This was the bakery I used.”