Ramadan SMS messages flourish in Gaza
Published: Aug 24, 2009 09:22 AM Updated: May 25, 2011 12:57 PM

Gaza resident Khalil Mheisen, who has not visited his relatives abroad for more than two years due to the Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip, has sent dozens of SMS messages to their cellular phones to congratulate them on the occasion of Ramadan.

Since the 30-day fasting month of Ramadan began on Saturday, Mheisen, in his mid forties in Zeitoon neighborhood in southern Gaza city, has sent and received dozens of messages on his cellular phone to and from his friends and relatives living either in the Gaza Strip or in other Arab countries.

"The technology has enabled me to carry out my social life and overcome some obstacles, which disabled me from communicating with my friends and relatives living in the West Bank and Egypt. I haven't seen them for more than two years," said Mheisen.

On the eve of Ramadan and during the first and second days, hundreds of thousands of messages were sent through the mobile phones of Gaza residents to their relatives and friends on the holy occasion.

"Sending SMS messages to my friends and relatives is much cheaper than calling them to say 'Happy Ramadan' and wish them happy and easy fasting during the holy festival," said Mheisen, who owns a food store in downtown Gaza city.

Officials of Gaza Jawal Company (the Palestinian cellular phone services) said that exchanging SMS messages on holy and social occasions had become an essential social habit for Gaza residents.

The Jawal Company had made a special offer to its Gaza customers by offering them a free SMS message which can be sent through the internet. The residents said this offer had caused a heavy load on the service of sending and receiving messages.

Mona Khaldoun, a female university student from Gaza, complained that she has spent the whole day sending SMS messages to her colleagues, classmates and relatives. "Many of my messages can't be sent out due to high load and pressure on the service itself," she said.

As her mobile rang, she knew that she had received another congratulation message from a friend, which said "You are as sweet as sugar ... I congratulate you on the holy month of Ramadan."

She said, "for me sending messages to friends and relatives with such good offer from Jawal company is cheaper and I can afford it."

Some of the SMS messages are beautiful and warm verses of poetry, others include colorful pictures with verses from the Muslim holy book of Quran. There are also messages from friends and relatives abroad with prayers that the blockade will be ended soon.

Some Gaza residents believe that the increasing use of short SMS messages stems out from the current Palestinian situation, mainly the reality of living under a strict Israeli siege and the complete closure of crossings.

Israel has imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip right after Islamic Hamas movement won the elections in January 2006, and the blockade was highly tightened after the Islamic movement seized control of the enclave and ousted President Mahmoud Abbas' security forces in June 2007.

Ayman al-Jamal, an unemployed Gazan in his late twenties, said that congratulating his friends and relatives, who live in the West Bank and abroad, by sending them short SMS messages "is the only way in the current time," adding "we hope the siege will be lifted one day."

However, there are also some who expressed concerns that the use of SMS messages "would for sure harm the social ties and relationships between relatives and friends."

They warned that the messages have a negative impact on the original traditions, according to which people should visit each other and meet face to face during Ramadan.

"I hope someday we people in Gaza will be able to communicate with each other face to face," said Ayman al-Jamal.

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