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Manila: With a decades-old tradition of solidarity iftars bringing Filipinos of different faiths together during Ramadan, this year the occasion has also become a platform for Muslim and Christian communities to raise awareness about Palestine. 

In the Christian-majority country where more than 110 million identify as Roman Catholics, Muslims make up about 10 percent of the population. Most live on the southern islands of Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago.

During the holy fasting month, many of them take part in Duyog Ramadan — a tradition established in the 1970s — where Christians and Muslims in Mindanao organize solidarity iftars to engage the local community and foster collaboration between faith traditions.

One of the organizers of the meetings has been the Moro-Christian People’s Alliance, whose iftars this year focused on Palestine.

“Ramadan is a time of reflection and spiritual growth for Muslims. As a result, by raising awareness and engaging in conversations about Palestine throughout Ramadan, we may foster empathy and motivate collective action,” Amirah Ali Lidasan, secretary-general of MCPA, told Arab News.

Themed “Strengthen Bangsamoro solidarity with the Palestinian people’s aspiration for justice, peace and right to self-determination,” the iftar meetings included screenings and talks about Palestinian history and present.

On March 30, the MCPA held a discussion at the Salam Mosque Compound in Quezon City in commemoration of the Great March of Return — the peaceful demonstrations that were held in Gaza on the border with Israel each Friday from March 30, 2018, to Dec. 27, 2019. They demanded the end of the Israeli blockade of the enclave and the right to return to the homes of their ancestors, who were expelled from them in 1948 when Zionist militias removed 750,000 Palestinians from their villages to clear the way for the creation of Israel.

Israeli snipers opened fire at protesters during the Great March of Return demonstrations, killing at least 223 people and injuring almost 30,000 others, with many sustaining bone-shattering wounds that left them disabled.

“We chose Palestine because of the intensifying attacks since Oct. 7 last year that led to more than 30,000 killed and 13,000 of them were children,” Lidasan said. “We believe it is important to persuade people to continue supporting the calls for a ceasefire and to understand the Palestinian people’s collective struggle.”

The group also invited Christian church leaders, some of whom have visited Palestine, to speak about the plight of Palestinians and what she described as “Zionist Israel’s genocidal campaign,” and organized iftars for Christians with Filipino-Palestinian evacuees from Gaza.

According to Lidasan, it is essential for the Moro communities to understand the struggle of Palestinians and align it with their own.

The biggest concentration of Moro people is on the Mindanao island, at the heart of a four-decade separatist struggle until 2014 peace deals were reached with the Philippine government.

It was also the arena of US-sponsored counterterrorism operations. In 2002, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom — Philippines, which targeted militant groups in Mindanao, and left a record of hundreds of extrajudicial killings and cases of torture.  

The MCPA will continue to raise awareness on Palestine after Ramadan, including through a forum in April to discuss proceedings in the International Court of Justice, in which South Africa has accused Israel of committing genocide in Gaza against the Palestinian people.

It also plans to hold protest actions with the Philippines-Palestine Friendship Association and grassroots alliance BAYAN on May 15 — the day of commemoration for the Nakba, also known as the “catastrophe,” the destruction of Palestinian society and homeland in 1948, and the permanent displacement of a majority of the Palestinians. It is commemorated on May 15, the date of Israel’s declaration of independence in 1948.

“It is critical that we encourage (people) to recognize the struggles of Palestinians living under occupation, facing displacement and enduring injustice, and to take action,” Lidasan said.

“The solidarity iftar events provide an opportunity to foster empathy and understanding.”