The right to pray does not have an age limit

by EA Ebba, Yanoun team,

“Teargas burns in my throat and nose. My eyes sting. I lift up the scarf over my nose and I start to breathe through the blue velvet fabric. Around me, people are fleeing in all directions. Smoke from teargas-canisters settles like a fog over the crowd, of men women and children. BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! It sounds as if weapons are being fired, but the sound comes from sound bombs thrown into the crowd.”  

Ecumenical Accompaniers (EAs) monitor access to holy sites for Palestinians of all faiths across occupied Palestine. During Ramadan our EAs monitor the checkpoints every Friday to ensure that those with permits are able to go to Jerusalem and report on any human rights abuses that occur during crossing.

It is the last Friday of Ramadan and thousands of Palestinian Muslims have travelled to Qalandia to cross into Jerusalem and pray in the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Al-Aqsa is he third holiest site for Muslims after Mecca and Medina. Qalandia is one of several Israeli-controlled checkpoint between the West Bank and East-Jerusalem. The checkpoint is not on the border between two states since it has not been built on the 1949 Armistice or Green Line. Both sides of the checkpoint are recognised by the UN as Palestinian territory.

This Ramadan, according to the criteria set up by the Israeli authorities, only men over 45, children and women were allowed to access Jerusalem without a permit for Friday prayers. Following the attack in Tel Aviv on the 8th of June, in which four people were killed and seven were wounded, Israeli authorities made the political decision to cancel  83,000 permits for men under 45. 

According to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs “it is estimated that on the fourth Friday of Ramadan until 12 pm, around 73,000 Palestinians holding West Bank IDs were allowed into East Jerusalem to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque.” [1] The restrictions are generally stricter during the rest of the year when very few Palestinians from the West Bank are granted entry permits to Jerusalem.

However, despite the easing of permit restriction hundreds of people were denied access on the last Friday of Ramadan, even those with American, Norwegian or Jordanian passports. A young man told us: “I have been here for four hours. We want to go and pray. That’s all we want”. Many try to go through the checkpoint again and again. Some explain that they do this as a form of peaceful resistance to the restrictions on their religious freedom. These men are harshly treated by the military guards. We observed them being violently pushed and shouted at by soldiers. Three fridays ago, soldiers held these men in the sun behind a wall of barbed wire as punishment.

As the morning passes more and more men under 45 gather at the site. An elderly man says: “Do you know why there are so many young people here? It is because last Friday they let the boys through”. Many are hoping they will do the same this Friday.

Frustration is growing among people outside the checkpoint, especially among the youth. It is hot, and because of the fast most people have not eaten or drunk since the sun came up. A group of young people start chanting, ‘God is great’. Through a load speaker the military warns that it will use force unless all men under 45 return to their homes. The men refused to leave. Then, the military puts its threat into practice. The soldiers respond by shooting teargas and foam-tipped bullets and throw sound booms – in all directions. No place is safe. Bystanders and international observers are also targeted. The situation was very dangerous because the tear gas can be lethal for children and the elderly. Two soldiers on large horses then rode into a queue of people, made up of youth, elderly and children. The young people in the crowd soon respond by throwing stones; one Israeli soldier was injured as a result. Sadly, a man in his 60s died from the tear gas inhalation and over 20 Palestinians were injured. [2]

Because of the escalating situation, it is not possible to enter the checkpoint. It is very important for many Palestinians to pray at Al-Aqsa on the last Friday of Ramadan and the coming night is the holiest night of the holy month.

Because of the escalating situation, it was not possible for some pilgrims to enter the checkpoint. It is very important for Muslims to pray at Al-Aqsa on the last Friday of Ramadan and the coming night is the holiest night of the holy month.

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. Israel has ratified the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which includes the right of people to freely practice their religion. Articles 27 and 38 of the Fourth Geneva Convention also oblige Israel, as the occupying power, to protect this right.

Under occupation, Palestinians – wether Muslim or Christian – are confronted with the same discriminatory measures and restrictions on their right to practice their religion. The Separation Barrier and the permit regime are just two of the means by which the Israeli government separates Jerusalem from Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. UN Resolution 476 calls for “the protection and preservation of the unique spiritual and religious dimension of the Holy Places in the Jerusalem.”

EAPPI maintains that Jerusalem must be an open, inclusive and shared city.

All photos by EAPPI/Ebba

More information:

EA blog: Permission to cross into Israel

Watch video footage of the incident on the 1st of July  here, by active stills.

B’Tselem: Qalandia Checkpoint, March 2014: An obstacle to normal life Photo blog

UNOCHA: East Jerusalem Key Humanitarian Concerns

 

2 thoughts on “The right to pray does not have an age limit

  1. Reblogged this on Peacing Stories and commented:
    With thanks to EAs and EAPPI for raising awareness about Palestinians’ (Muslim and Christian) efforts to live a non-violent life in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem…

  2. I have no words to express my anger and sorrow when I see these photos and read the stories!
    It is high time for the rest of the world to realize what is going on and why!

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