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Poverty, Isolation Mar Ramadan Celebrations for Palestinians

Muslims in the Palestinian territories, like in other places, are marking the holy month of Ramadan, a season of fasting. It is also a time to ask forgiveness, practice self-restraint, and pray for guidance in the future. For many Palestinians, however, this Ramadan has highlighted the realities of poverty and uncertainty over the peace process with Israel. VOA's Luis Ramirez reports from Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank.

For Muslim families, the end of daytime fasting is crowned with a sumptuous meal, special sweets and the joy of family and friends.

For Neela Mahmoud, the mother of nine, it is - in some ways - a time to dread. On this evening, she has only bread and water to break the fast.

"This is the most difficult Ramadan that we have ever known," Mahmoud said. "My husband cannot work. There are no organizations that will help us. It has been hard to put food on the table."

Friends bring rice, lentils and yogurt. For the children, it's a feast.

Neela's husband was recently in prison. He had been accused of plotting an attack against Israeli soldiers. He fears that speaking on camera now might get him re-arrested. He says Israeli checkpoints make it impossible for him to travel out of his home to find work.

In the nearby city of Ramallah, Ramadan lanterns do little to lift spirits. A lantern vendor says no jobs mean no business.

"I have much merchandise, but very few customers," he said.

The wish here, expressed frequently, is for peace with Israel. But even during Ramadan, it is hard for many to put aside the grim reality.

A 14 year-old boy says his house still has bullet holes from an Israeli incursion some years ago.

"During Ramadan," he says, "we forgive people and people forgive us."

Would he be willing to forgive Israel?

"It depends. If the Israelis are harsh with me, I will be harsh on them."

Few people here have hope in a peace agreement or an end to the periodic cycles of violence.

For many, like Neela Mahmoud, the main concern now is the everyday struggle to feed her family.