As Ramadan starts, Israel seeks to ease travel

"We changed operations hours at the checkpoints to facilitate the Palestinian needs," Civil Administration official says.

ramadan 88 (photo credit:)
ramadan 88
(photo credit: )
With the start of Ramadan's month of daytime fasts, the Civil Administration moved into high gear on Monday in an effort to assist the tens of thousands of Palestinians who are fasting and traveling to visit family throughout the West Bank. Earlier this week, as part of its political battle with Hamas, the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in Ramallah put an end to daylight savings time and is currently one hour behind Israel. With Ramadan starting Monday, the time change has affected the hours of the day IDF soldiers man checkpoints and permit Palestinian traffic. "We try to be sensitive during Ramadan," Lt.-Col. Sharon Biton, operations officer for the Civil Administration, told The Jerusalem Post on Monday. "We changed operations hours at the checkpoints to facilitate the Palestinian needs and to coincide with their time zone since they are now on standard time." To assist the Palestinians, the Civil Administration has beefed up forces at main checkpoints in the West Bank and has ordered soldiers not to smoke, eat or drink in the presence of fasting Palestinians. Biton said that due to the fast, most of the Palestinian traffic was at night and not during the day. During Ramadan, the IDF will allow Palestinians who live in the West Bank to visit the Temple Mount. Men over 50 years of age will be allowed in for Friday morning prayers after presenting their identity cards, while men between 45 and 50 will be eligible to receive a special permit from the Civil Administration. Israeli Arabs are also being allowed to enter Area A - cities like Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin - to visit family during the holy month. Following Ramadan, a closure will likely be imposed on the territories ahead of Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur and Succot. After Succot, Palestinians will begin their olive harvest, which according to Biton will involve several thousand Palestinians. The harvest usually lasts one month, beginning in Jenin and continuing southward until Hebron. "Our goal will be to ensure that the Palestinians are able to harvest their olives safely and without disruption," Biton said. To do this, the IDF will increase its presence in Palestinian olive orchards that border on settlements and outposts. Last week, OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Gadi Shamni issued restraining orders against three settlers who are said to be provocateurs. The three will not be allowed into the West Bank during the olive harvest. Right-wing activists plan to hold a rally on Tuesday evening in Reut to protest the eviction of the three settlers. They have also circulated a petition against the eviction orders signed by Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in the US on charges of spying for Israel in the 1980s. His wife, Esther, who lives in Israel also signed the petition. Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.