Accessing worship: This year’s Ramadan part I

by the Yanoun team,

On the 18th of June Muslims all over the world, including in Palestine and Israel, started the holy month of Ramadan. During this month Muslims fast during the light hours of the day in solidarity with the suffering of the poor, and they dedicate themselves to prayers. As Jerusalem is the third holiest city for Muslims, many Palestinians wish to visit the Holy City to pray.

19.06.15. Bethlehem. Checkpoint 300  Muslims on their way to Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque during the first Friday of Ramadan. Photo EAPPI / I. Tanner

19.06.15. Bethlehem Checkpoint 300, Muslims on their way to Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque during the first Friday of Ramadan. Photo EAPPI / I. Tanner

Normally Israeli Authorities require that Palestinians apply for a permit to access Jerusalem. But this year, the Israeli Civil Administration announced it would ease the restrictions for those wishing to make the journey. Now women and girls of all ages, men over the age of 40, and boys under 12, are allowed to cross the checkpoints without a specifically issued permit. Though the exception only applies on Fridays during Ramadan, it would still be easy to accept the Israeli narrative here. Even the rather left wing newspaper “Haaretz” referred to the temporary rules as “perks” and stated: “Israel has cancelled more goodwill gestures granted to the Palestinians for the month-long Ramadan fast period following Tuesday night’s rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel.” Rocket fire is not good – but the Palestinian narrative is not one of “perks” or “goodwill gestures”. One can also ask if it should be considered to perk to be allowed to apply for a permit to visit a family member during Ramadan or Eid.

03.07.15. Bethlehem. Checkpoint 300 during third Friday of Ramadan. Women waiting. Photo EAPPI

03.07.15. Bethlehem. Checkpoint 300 during third Friday of Ramadan. Women waiting. Photo EAPPI / M. Schnetzer

03.07.15. Bethlehem. Checkpoint 300 during third Friday of Ramadan. Palestinian TV crew reporting from the men's gate. Photo EAPPI

03.07.15. Bethlehem. Checkpoint 300 during third Friday of Ramadan. Palestinian TV crew reporting from the men’s gate. Photo EAPPI / M. Schnetzer

The narrative we hear from Palestinians crossing into Jerusalem is rather one of people in an occupied land not being allowed to move freely, particularly to move freely to pray even at this Holy time. One man told us:

“even going to prayer in our own land – we are treated like cattle”

03.07.15. Bethlehem. Checkpoint 300 during third Friday of Ramadan. Security set up with Palestinian police (foreground) and Israeli border police (above). The Wall (background). Photo EAPPI

03.07.15. Bethlehem. Checkpoint 300 during third Friday of Ramadan. Security set up with Palestinian police (foreground) and Israeli border police (above). The Wall (background). Photo EAPPI / M. Schnetzer

More people were allowed to pass without permits, but ID cards were still checked, people were turned back, young children had to stand in metal corridors, and get through turnstiles, children had to see their parents argue their right to pass with police and soldiers. People had to go home after being told they were the right age, but that someone in their family had a problem. They were not given a proper explanation. This is not to say that people were not delighted to be able to pass to pray. There were plenty of excited and relieved faces among those who were allowed to pass. One man told us he had not been able to visit Jerusalem for 15 years, despite have been born there. Many others told us that this was their first ever trip to the Holy City.

2015, Jerusalem Old City, The Temple Mount, Photo EAPPI/I.Tanner

21.06.15 Jerusalem, The Dome of the Rock, (Qubbat As-Sakhrah in Arabic), Muslim shrine located on the Temple Mount. Photo EAPPI / I.Tanner

EAPPI is monitoring the two main checkpoints, in Qalandia and Bethlehem, used by Palestinians coming to Jerusalem to pray in the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem’s Old City. Movement restrictions that impede access to religious institutions – and that are not necessary for the maintenance of public order – infringe on the rights of the Palestinian population to freedom of religion and worship, according to article 46 of the Hague Regulations, article 58 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, article 75 of the First Additional Protocol (IAP).

19.06.15. Bethlehem. Checkpoint 300 during the first Friday of Ramadan. EA monitoring men's line. Photo EAPPI / I. Tanner

19.06.15. Bethlehem. Checkpoint 300 during the first Friday of Ramadan. EA monitoring men’s line. Photo EAPPI / I. Tanner

During our 7 hours of monitoring more than 37, 000 Palestinians crossed through the two checkpoints on the 1st Friday of Ramadan. On the following Friday numbers were more than double that amount as 49.000 Palestinians passed through Qalandia and 39.000 passed through Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem. Though many are happy to be allowed to enter Jerusalem, the situation at the checkpoints is tense. The lines are long, the expectations are high and the frustration of being rejected for no apparent reason can be heartfelt for fasting Palestinians. The last two weeks have unfortunately been tense and several violent attacks have been taking place on checkpoints and in Jerusalem. On the 1st Friday of Ramadan a Palestinian man stabbed a soldier in Jerusalem. This caused the Israeli Administration to collectively punish all the inhabitants of his village. None were allowed to enter Jerusalem for prayer on the following Friday. During the following week, three similar incidents have taken place, and Palestinians are now worried that the restrictions will be even more severe.

19.06.15. Bethlehem. Checkpoint 300 during the first Friday of Ramadan. EAs monitoring men's line. Photo EAPPI / I. Tanner

19.06.15. Bethlehem. Checkpoint 300 during the first Friday of Ramadan. EAs monitoring men’s line. Photo EAPPI / I. Tanner

Despite all these issues, the sticking turnstiles and the tensions, we EAs hope that our presence helps to protect the rights of those living under occupation to access their place of worship. We feel privileged to stand on Fridays for 7 hours and be a very small part of this holy Ramadan time.

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