CAIRO — Forty-nine prominent Muslim scholars and politicians have declared the last Friday of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, to fall on October 20, as a day of solidarity with Palestine, raising funds to cash-strapped Palestinians in the face of "political blackmail" practiced against the Palestinian government.
"Arabs and Muslims as well as all people of conscience around the world are urged to show solidarity with the Palestinian people on Friday against international conditions clamped on them," said a statement published in major Arab dailies on Wednesday, October 18.
"We call on Arabs and Muslims to pressure their governments to lift up the unjust siege on the Palestinians and channel aid to them during the holy fasting month."
The US has spearheaded an international aid freeze against the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority since the new Hamas-led government came to power in March.
Since then, tens of thousands of Palestinian civil servants have gone unpaid, greatly affecting the livelihood in the occupied Palestinian territories.
The signatories slammed the Western conditions imposed on the government in order to resume aid to the Palestinians.
"This is a political blackmail to force the Palestinian government into cowing to unjust conditions only serving the Zionist entity," the statement added.
Among the signatories are prominent Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars (IUMS), Saudi scholar Salman al-Ouda, former Egyptian prime minister Aziz Sedki and Abu Jarah Sultani, leader of Algeria's Peace Society movement.
A Palestinian seller can't find a customer to buy his toys during Ramadan. (Reuters)
The statement comes as thousands of Palestinians are witnessing the worst-ever Ramadan in their history.
"This is the worst Ramadan in my life," Munder Hindiya, a gold trader, told Reuters on Wednesday, October 18.
"This Ramadan has been worse than any other," agreed vegetable seller Hasan Naana.
"Many cannot pay. It's the first time I have seen anything like this," added the 46-year-old seller as he pulls out a dusty exercise book where he keeps a ledger of customer debts.
For one day this week, Naana had noted 10 new debtors, worth a total of 250 shekels ($58).
Nearby butcher Amin Abu Zant, 57, said he can't recall a Ramadan so grim in his life.
"Look at my shop, it's empty. Life is getting worse and worse," he added, gazing at his spotlessly clean shop, hunks of meat hanging off ceiling hooks.
Khaled al-Shaweesh, 61, owner of a clothing shop in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said recent partial salary payments to low income government workers had made little difference.
"They get partial salary payments but then which debt do they pay back first: the butcher, the grocer, the overdue bills, education fees, you name it. People do not have money to eat. Do you expect them to buy clothes?"
As he spoke, a woman came in and asked for a shirt. Before Shaweesh gave her one to look at, she asked for the price. He said 80 shekels. The woman left without saying anything.
The Gaza economy is close to zero, given Israeli closures and Western aid boycotts, exacerbated by a massive Israeli offensive that has killed more than 260 Palestinians.
With the `Eid al-Fitr holiday on the corner, most Palestinians would not be able to buy new cloths for their kids.
"I cannot even feed them biscuits ... They can spend the `Eid in their school clothes," said Ghazi Ashour.
"This is not the atmosphere of `Eid. It will be a sad day."