Selecting a sheep to slaughter to fulfill Eid al-Adha requirements


Khalil Assali

Blog Post

Feeding the Needy on Eid al-Adha in Today’s Jerusalem: A High-Risk Endeavor

For the first time in his life, Ahmad Said Montasser, 28, from the Shu‘fat neighborhood north of Jerusalem, was able to buy a sheep and distribute its meat on Eid al-Adha to the needy in Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank. He felt that this was the least he could do for the city he lives in, a city in which his family has roots that extend back hundreds of years.

On Eid al-Adha, or the “festival of sacrifice,” devout Muslims slaughter livestock animals and distribute the meat among family and, more importantly, the poor.

The four-day feast of sacrifice marks the end of the annual hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, commemorating the prophet Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice his son Ishmael on God’s order.

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A family chooses a sheep to slaughter in Eid al-Adha in Jerusalem, January 10, 2006.

A Palestinian man and his children follow a butcher after choosing a sheep to slaughter on the occasion of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday in the West Bank village of al-Ram, just outside Jerusalem, January 10, 2006.


Menahem Kahana/AFP via Getty Images

Ahmad’s only problem was that under Israeli law, he could not buy and slaughter the sheep in Jerusalem, specifically within the legal boundaries of the Jerusalem municipality. The Jerusalem municipality slaps an exceedingly high fine on anyone who does that, so he decided to go to Bethlehem, which is geographically nearby. (Ramallah is actually closer to north Jerusalem, where he lives, but there are too many checkpoints on the way, making the city next to impossible to reach.)

Eid al-Adha prayers at al-Aqsa Mosque, June, 2021

Palestinian worshippers perform the Eid al-Adha prayer at the Haram al-Sharif complex in Jerusalem’s Old City, June 20, 2021.


Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Ahmad bought the meat to be distributed according to religious specifications: The sheep must not be sick and must weigh more than 50 kilograms. The butcher agreed to divide the meat into small portions that could be distributed to households in his neighborhood, because he knew firsthand which families were needy. Many such families were already near the butcher, because they knew that people would be distributing meat in accordance with religious custom for this holiday. A kilo of meat costs more than $30 in Jerusalem and $20 in the rest of the West Bank, according to a butcher in Bethlehem. The butcher asked for a favor: He wanted permission to distribute small meat scraps to the needy who often come looking for them. Ahmad readily agreed.

“Believe me, life is difficult for the majority of the Palestinian people, including those with regular employment. I know many of these families. Even families who have a breadwinner do not make enough money to buy meat. So, Eid al-Adha is an excellent time for these families to get meat, which they don’t usually have as part of their meals,” the Bethlehem butcher told Jerusalem Story.1 He was looking forward to making the holiday a little brighter for these families.

Meat in hand, Ahmad had one problem: He had to pass the Israeli checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, Checkpoint 300. He knew that as a young Palestinian, his car would likely be checked very thoroughly by Israeli security personnel at the checkpoint. If they found the meat, he might be fined NIS 50,000 (about $15,000) or even sent to jail, and his car might be confiscated.

Ahmad decided to camouflage the meat packages by wrapping them up in bags with well-known Israel logos. He then stuck the bags deep in the trunk and placed vegetable bags and bags with children’s sweets in the front and over the top, while the meat in Israeli bags was pushed into the back of the trunk.

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“Even families who have a breadwinner do not make enough money to buy meat.”

Bethlehem butcher

Palestinians wait to pass through Checkpoint 300, March 20, 2012.

Palestinians wait to pass through Checkpoint 300, the Israeli military checkpoint controlling movement between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, West Bank, March 20, 2012.



As his turn at the checkpoint was approaching, he noticed that some of the cars ahead of him were stopped and the soldiers were checking the trunks of their cars. His blood pressure went up, and he started to shake. Feeling he needed a little help to get through the checkpoint without incident, he started reciting verses from the Quran.

When his turn came, the soldier waved him through. Ahmad took a deep breath and thanked God for his good fortune, knowing that the encounter could have gone very differently.

Next year, Ahmad plans to think twice before engaging in risky behavior to feed the needy, even though the tenets of his faith require it.

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Bethlehem butcher, interview by the author, June 16, 2024.

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