Biden is cutting short a beach weekend to meet with his national security team amid Mideast tensions

Biden is cutting short a beach weekend to meet with his national security team amid Mideast tensions
Biden is cutting short a beach weekend to meet with his national security team amid Mideast tensions

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - How Ramadan, Eid celebrations helped Filipinos nurture closer ties with Palestinians

MANILA: For Carmelita Jalova, this year’s Ramadan was the first in decades observed away from Palestine.

After marrying a Palestinian man, Jalova moved from the Philippines to her new family’s home in Gaza and had been living there ever since — until Israel’s deadly invasion forced her to leave.

Jalova was among 170 Filipino Palestinians evacuated from Gaza by the Philippine government in November.

For most of them, Eid celebrations this week were the first time they had spent the main Muslim holiday away from extended families and friends.

“Our first Ramadan here in the Philippines after almost 30 years is so different than what it was in Palestine,” Jalova said, as she remembered the scent of authentic traditional pastry that filled her neighborhood as everyone prepared for Eid, the busy streets of Gaza as people would gather for evening prayers, and “the smiles and happy faces, full of hope that their prayers and fasting will be answered by Allah.”

Following some initial help from the Philippine government, most of the evacuees after their arrival were left to their own devices until civil society groups stepped in.

One such group was the Moro-Palestinian Cooperation Team, which has been helping them with accommodation and finding means of subsistence in the Philippines. Among the initiatives were a pop-up kitchen that introduced Filipinos to traditional Palestinian cuisine during Ramadan, and participation in a halal food bazaar in the Quezon City Memorial Circle on Eid.

For Jalova and her children, it was their first time selling home-cooked food.

“They were so amazed during the bazaar, maybe because we ran out of food in such a very short time,” she said. “It gives them the confidence to go on ... acceptance of what we are dealing (with) right now.”

The culinary initiatives drew hundreds of Filipinos curious to taste iconic dishes from Palestine and meet the refugees in person. Their presence and the support of volunteers was what made this year’s holy month unforgettable for Jalova and her family.

“So thankful that all of them became a part of our Ramadan,” she said. “(It’s) so meaningful and unforgettable.”

While many in Gaza have lost all their relatives as Israeli ground and air attacks have in the past six months killed at least 33,600 people, the evacuated Filipinos and their closest Palestinian family members were grateful they were together and alive.

Mariam Lacson, whose family lives in Little Gaza, sees this Ramadan as a blessing as those in the community can still spend time with their loved ones.

“Maybe Allah has a better plan for us, that’s why we are here in the Philippines,” said Lacson, whose closest Palestinian family found refuge in her native country.

“(We have a) place to stay, food on our table. We feel safe, especially since we have brothers and sisters around us, who are tirelessly there for us.”

One of the people she had in mind was Kamilah Dimaporo Manala-o, the co-founder of the Moro-Palestinian Cooperation Team.

Since the arrival of Gaza evacuees, Manala-o’s family has been involved in building and supporting their community, with interactions especially frequent and close during the holy fasting month.

“We spent our Ramadan with the Filipino Palestinian refugees that came from Gaza. It has been very eventful because of them and also very rewarding,” Manala-o told Arab News.

“During the last night of Ramadan, the Palestinian fathers gave us a heartwarming speech about how thankful they are, that we have become family to them and have made it easier for them. This Ramadan has been the most meaningful one for us. And their words made everything worth it.”

Like Manala-o and her team, other Filipinos, too, have stepped up to help the refugees settle in the Philippines and ensure they enjoy meaningful Eid celebrations.

Filipino Muslim doctor Naheeda Mustofa and her husband Mustofa Mardjuki, who serves as the imam of the Indonesian embassy in Manila, hosted 37 refugees at her clinical facility’s compound at the Islamic Studies, Call and Guidance of the Philippines in Cavite.

While most of the refugees have since moved on to other places, Mustofa remains in touch with them and has employed some at her clinic.

Her family would usually travel to Indonesia to observe Eid Al-Fitr, but this time they decided to stay and host special celebrations that were accompanied by rituals for three new babies that were born to the refugees.

“We were really happy to celebrate the three babies ... we used to go home to south Sumatra to celebrate Eid with my husband’s relatives, but we put this on hold,” she said.

“We are not rich at all, but Allah is making us feel rich with the tasks we are able to take up.”

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