Palestinians flock to Jerusalem to attend first Friday prayer of Ramadan

Police expecting thousands of Muslims to come in from different areas such as Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron.

June 19, 2015 13:37
3 minute read.
Old City

Palestinians walk next to decorations at the entrance to the compound of The Dome of the Rock ahead of the upcoming holy month of Ramadan in Jerusalem's Old City, June 11, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Walking through the shuk in the Old City of Jerusalem on a typical Friday doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult task. However, this weekend was different; Ramadan started on Thursday evening, meaning that June 19 was the first Friday of the Muslim holy month.

The IDF had announced plans to bus in large groups of Palestinians from both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to let them pray at the Aksa Mosque. In addition, the IDF announced plans to allow 300 Gazans to visit family in the West Bank; also it is issuing permits for Palestinians living abroad to visit family, with the restriction that they must leave after Ramadan is over.

West Bank Muslims crossed the checkpoints separating them from Jerusalem on their way to prayers at the Aksa Mosque on the Temple Mount.

As in previous years, Palestinian Authority police worked alongside Israeli border police to control the crowd at Kalandiya, Ramallah’s checkpoint north of the capital, and at the Bethlehem checkpoint south of the capital.

Border police were also positioned in several key locations across the capital’s Old City.

Some 80,000 Muslims attended prayers on the Temple Mount, police said on Friday.

Making one’s way through the shuk meant navigating a steady stream of hijab-clad women and older men making their way to the Aksa Mosque. The atmosphere was jovial and touristy, with many people taking photographs.

Jaffa Gate was flooded with groups of Palestinians wearing the same white baseball caps. Upon entering the shuk, the voices of young boys selling prayer rugs for NIS 5 filled the air; men greeted the Palestinians walking through as if they hadn’t one another in a long time. Through Jaffa Gate came the Palestinians from southern West Bank cities, such as Bethlehem and Hebron, whereas those from northern West Bank cities, such as Ramallah, used Damascus Gate, a shopkeeper named Ahmed explained.

In the midst of the chaos, I was able to interview a few.

Most were rushing to prayer and enjoying the few hours they had in the Old City.

One girl was from Bethlehem; it was her eighth time in Jerusalem, but first time at the Aksa Mosque. “Everyone being brought together is very nice, it follows the spirit of Ramadan,” she told me.

A second girl was from Ramallah, and it was her second time in Jerusalem.

Most years at Ramadan the IDF allows Arabs from the southern West Bank to come into Jerusalem, however this is one of the first times it allowed people from Ramallah to pray at al-Aksa and bused them in, she explained. Her face lit up as I asked her what she thought of the IDF initiative; she said she wished this would become a regular occurrence, “everyone is very peaceful during Ramadan, and bringing us here promotes peace.”

Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said on Saturday night that no disturbances were reported in the capital during the first days of Ramadan.

“No incidents took place in Jerusalem or the Old City due to the coordination of both the police and IDF, who worked together to ensure thousands of Palestinians could pray peacefully,” he said.

Earlier, Rosenfeld said, “The Israeli Police have completed final security measures that will be implemented in and around the Old City throughout the day. We’re expecting thousands of Muslims to come in from different areas such as Ramallah, Bethlehem and Hebron. This has been done in full coordination, and extra police units will be in and around different areas to make sure that everyone comes in the Old City without any problems. But, at the same time we will respond if necessary to any security-related issues.”

A resident of Kafr al-Deek, south of Kalkilya, who came to pray at al-Aksa, Sha’lan al-Deek, told Reuters that they entered the city without any problems.

“Because this is the first Friday in the holy month of Ramadan, we wanted to see the atmosphere of Ramadan in Jerusalem, and how the situation looks like. Thanks God, we entered, with full respect,” Deek said.

Daniel K. Eisenbud contributed to this report.

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