RAMALLAH - Palestinians are torn between being happy that many have received
permits to visit Jerusalem and Israel during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan,
and being concerned for the West Bank shops which will lose a great deal of
business to stores in Israel.
Ramadan is considered the holiest month in
the Islamic calendar. Religious Muslims all over the world fast from sunrise to
sunset. At the end of the month, Muslims celebrate Id Al-Fitr where they visit
relatives or take a few days off to travel.
On a recent morning, dozens
of people were gathered in the Ramallah Liaison office to collect their Israeli
permits. Palestinians are not allowed to enter Israel without a special permit.
During Ramadan, Israel significantly eases restrictions to allow Muslims to
visit Jerusalem to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites for
Muslims. Israel has already issued 10,000 permits for Palestinians and the
number is expected to grow.
While in Jerusalem, many Palestinians will
make the 45-minute drive to the beach in Tel Aviv, or visit Israel’s amusement
parks and tourist attractions.
“These numbers would have been multiplied
by 10 if we didn’t send out the permits to the local municipalities.” Ghassan
Safi, the head of the Liaison office in Ramallah told The Media Line. Due to the
large numbers of permits granted in Ramadan, the liaison offices started sending
out the permits to the local municipalities in order to ease the
“My husband and I got a permit for a month, but my son was
denied one. We will try to apply again for him. I hope there is still time,”
Salma Assi, a 37-year-old employee in a Palestinian company told The Media Line.
On Fridays in Ramadan all women and men over 60 years old, are allowed into
Jerusalem without a permit.
Assi said that she will go to the Al-Aqsa
mosque to pray and to the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Jaffa to enjoy the beach at
Jamal Diab a 25-year-old Palestinian Authority (PA) employee only
received a permit for 4 days.
“I followed up with them (the Israeli
authorities) and asked to have a permit for 30 days”, Diab told The Media Line.
Diab can’t wait to go to the beach with his wife if both of them are granted a
permit for the end of Ramadan.
These trips to Israel may be spiritually
significant and fun, but they are also costly. Between transportation, entry
fees, and food, a one-day trip can cost a family several hundred dollars. Diab
says he will bring food from home and only buy drinks and juice in Israel,
hoping to keep the tab under $100 for the day.
He might go shopping as
well, “I heard that Israeli shops granted special discounts for West Bankers
last year and I want to use them,” Diab said. Mohammed Etewi, a 40-year-old
driver, received a permit this year to visit Jerusalem for the first time in 12
years. Along with his wife and daughter he came to pray at the Al-Aqsa
“The atmosphere is really amazing; we stayed until it was time to
break the fast and ate with the rest of people. We really enjoyed it”, Etewi
told The Media Line.
Etewi works for the PA, and earns about $600 each
month. He says he wanted to go to the beach, but didn’t because he couldn’t
afford it. His trip to the mosque cost about $60 for transportation and a few
“The prices are expensive in Jerusalem, so I only bought ka’ek
(a round bread topped with sesame seeds) and falafel, along with some
decorations from Ramadan and a few toys to my other kids at home”, Etewi told
The Media Line.
Beyond the cost, some Palestinian activists say that
Palestinians should be spending their money locally, not inside
“Last year around this time, we all read about the money that was
spent by Palestinians when they got permits and visited areas inside Israel,”
Hala Shoabi told The Media Line. “This year, we decided to do something about
A group of Palestinians from Ramallah and Jerusalem, along with Arab
citizens of Israel from Haifa, Nazareth, Jaffa, and Acre have planned an
awareness campaign to encourage Palestinians to buy from only Arab-owned shops.
They are compiling a list of shops, restaurants and coffee-shops in Israel owned
by Arab citizens of Israel.
A group member told The Media Line that they
believe that Israel profits from the permits economically.
in the West Bank is very restricted and Israel decides what it allows into our
markets,” Shoabi said. “With such a strong Israeli market and economy, it is
already hard for our market to compete. So the least we can do is not help
Israelis further especially in the holy month of Ramadan”, Shoaibi told The
However, Safi from the liason office believes that Israel’s
first priority is security, “Tourist and economic goals might follow, but if
there was a problem in one permit, Israel will not ease the process of giving
permits. Last year, the situation was much calmer than it is today,” Safi
Palestinian merchants say the permits are taking away their
livelihood. Elias Rishmawi, a clothes shop owner in Bethlehem says many
Palestinians buy their holiday clothes in Israel, rather than in
“We wait for these high seasons when people shop for their
festivities. However, Israel takes all of our profit by these permits”, Rishmawi
Nevertheless, Palestinian officials say they will never interfere
with people’s wishes to go to Jerusalem.
“Our policy in the Civil
Administration is to ease the burden caused by [Israeli] occupation. We will
never put checkpoints to prevent people from going to Jerusalem just to help
merchants make profit,” Safi said. “We help merchants by trying to ease the
restrictions imposed on them and not by rejecting people’s right to obtain a
The activists have launched a campaign on Facebook asking
Palestinians not to buy Israeli products. A widely shared photo on Facebook
reads, “I have a permit but will not buy Israeli products”, another reads
“boycott your occupation”.
However, others insist that they want to use
the permit to shop. Omar Hassan, a 27-year-old university employee says that
shopping in Israel is more cost-effective, as the goods are
“You pay a bit more money for clothing but you can still
use it for a long period on time. Don’t tell me to support the national product,
tell our merchants to have mercy on us,” Hassan said.
encouraged the listed merchants to offer discounts to Palestinians, “We are
aware people search for the cheapest prices that sometimes are offered by the
bigger chains in Israeli markets, but hopefully people will try to avoid buying
from Israeli stores,” Shoaibi added.
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