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Gaza war shatters pilgrimage dream for Palestinian couple

June 10, 2024 at 2:15 pm

DEIR AL-BALAH, GAZA – FEBRUARY 16: Palestinian couple, who fled the Israeli attacks and took refuge in Al-Durra Stadium, get married in Deir al-Balah, Gaza on February 16, 2024. Relatives of bride and groom, and many Palestinians attend the wedding near the stadium. ( Ashraf Amra – Anadolu Agency )

Mahmoud and Fatima Jarghoun sold their jewellery so that they could perform the hajj pilgrimage to Makkah, a journey that they have been yearning to make for years. However, with no way out of the Gaza Strip due to the Israeli military offensive against the enclave, their dream has been dashed.

“We are living inside a prison,” said Mahmoud Jarghoun, 67. “Without the Rafah border crossing, there is no way in and no way out.” The crossing on the border with Egypt has been closed since Israel seized it in May.

Jarghoun said that the deep disappointment of being unable to make the pilgrimage had compounded the pain inflicted by the war. He spoke at his shattered home in Khan Younis, where the floor is strewn with rubble and masonry. He estimates the repair costs of his house at some $20,000.

“Unfortunately, we lost our house, then came the closure of the border. It was two blows at once. We have the pain of the war, the pain of the destruction, the pain of the siege and the pain of not being able to go to hajj.”

The pilgrimage is one of the five basic obligations of a Muslim and every believer who has the means should perform the pilgrimage at least once in his or her lifetime. The main rites begin on Friday, but pilgrims try to stay as long as they can, and also visit the Mosque of Prophet Muhammad in Madinah.

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Palestinians typically wait years for their turn to go for hajj after registering their names with the Palestinian authorities. According to Jarghoun, he and his wife have been waiting almost 18 years.

“We have sold everything in our possession, so that we can perform this duty. We are at the end of our lifetime. Unfortunately, the border was closed, closing with it all our hopes to perform this duty.”

His wife Fatima, 65, said that the couple had been very happy when their names were approved for the hajj this year. “At the end, though, all our dreams were gone. We were very, very upset,” she added.

Israel has besieged and laid waste to much of the Gaza Strip since launching an offensive after the 7 October cross-border attack by Hamas that led to some 1,200 people being killed in Israel, many of them by Israeli tanks and helicopters, according to local media.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 38,000 Palestinians in Gaza, and wounded at least 80,000, with an estimated 10,000 missing, presumed dead, under the rubble of their homes.

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