Gaza War: America’s Ramadan Bear Hug

(Scroll down to see earlier posts in this series, beginning January 14th.)

We are days from Ramadan, sacred to Muslims—30 days of strict daytime fasting ending in a celebratory feast (Eid-al-Fitr) on the last day. It is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the others being ritual prayer, alms, the holy pilgrimage of the Hajj, and bearing witness to the Oneness of God and the truth of the Prophet Muhammad.

It is a bit confusing to outsiders that Ramadan rotates around the year, because unlike the Chinese and Jewish calendars, which come back to the solar cycle, the Muslim calendar is purely lunar, losing 11 days each year. So the ambience of Ramadan changes—one year wintry, another autumnal—back through the seasons. For my Muslim students, this is a time for spiritual reflection.

However, the idea that Ramadan should restrain Israel from attacking Gaza is very naive. Egypt and Syria attacked Israel on Yom Kippur of 1973, the holiest day of the year when Israeli Jews were in synagogues fasting, and the mass atrocities committed by Hamas came on what was both the Sabbath and a holy day. But Muslims have never considered Ramadan a time when war must stop, because the Qur’an does not forbid it.

In the long war between Iraq and Iran, both Islamic, key assaults by each side not only coincided with Ramadan but were named for it. Iran launched Operation Ramadan, then the largest land battle since World War II, on July 13, 1982, three weeks into the fast.  100,000 troops swept into Iraq in human waves; many had signed martyrdom contracts called “Passports to Paradise.” In six weeks an estimated 80,000 were killed on both sides.

And Iraq launched Operation Ramadan Mubarak (Blessed Ramadan) the day before Ramadan began in 1988, sending 100,000 troops against Iran with heavy use of chemical weapons. Iranian resistance collapsed.

Islamic countries fight through Ramadan, because the Qur’anic surahs (suwar) permitting war do not exclude it. Neither do insurrection, intifada, and terrorism take a break. So the Biden administration has been extremely eager to get a Hamas/Israel deal before Ramadan. Given the brinksmanship involved in hostage negotiations, we can’t rule out a deal by or even on the first day of Ramadan—this Sunday.

A lot is at stake. There are 1.4 billion Muslims, and many will be angry during Ramadan. Most, though, will be reflecting non-violently on God, faith, and peace. The Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem—Islam’s third holiest site—is a flash point. Speaking from his luxurious refuge in Doha, Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh called for a huge march on the Mosque; it could turn violent. And a psychopathic racist in Israel’s cabinet called for new restrictions on Israeli-Arab citizens who want to pray at the Mosque during the fast. Realizing that this would be not only inflammatory but illegal, Netanyahu repudiated this idea and guaranteed access. Of course, the Iranian Empire will step up its activities, letting loose its armies in Lebanon, Gaza, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, and the West Bank.

For these among other reasons, Israel’s bear hug from the US is tightening. Biden, while licking an ice cream cone, predicted a deal by last Monday. On Sunday Vice President Kamala Harris gave a fiery speech—perhaps her fiercest ever—harshly criticizing Israel. It would have been harsher, except that administration officials edited it. She did not say, or even whisper, these seven words: Hamas surrenders. War ends. Gazans are safe.

But Antony Blinken said Tuesday, “We have an opportunity for an immediate ceasefire… It is on Hamas to make decisions about whether it is prepared to engage in that ceasefire.”

And President Biden, in one of his brief roadside pressers, said, “It’s in the hands of Hamas right now. The Israelis have been cooperating, there’s an offer out there that’s rational…we’ll know in a couple of days if it’s going to happen. But we need the ceasefire.” Whether Biden was undermining Harris or whether this is just good cop/bad cop is not clear. But everyone demands more humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, contrary to all protocol, Israeli War Cabinet member and Netanyahu alternative Benny Gantz came to Washington and met with the Vice President and the Secretary of Defense on Monday and with Blinken early Tuesday. He surely explained to them that the war has to go on and that even a temporary ceasefire is up to Hamas.

If so, the prospects are dim. Senior Hamas Official Osama Hamdan said, “the Israelis…sent ridiculous and meaningless demands such as asking or requesting the names of the prisoners held by the resistance.”* If it’s ridiculous to ask for the identities of loved ones in brutal captivity, then ceasefire is ridiculous too. Ceasefire or not, Ramadan will be a good time to evacuate, with extreme care, the refugees in Rafa to another Gaza location, because whatever the US or the world says, the war will go to Rafa.

*I24 News video, March 6, 2024

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