Palestinians frustrated on eve of Ramadan over alleged prayer restrictions

Police: We are doing everything possible to ensure the tens of thousands of Muslims expected at Al Aqsa Mosque can pray peacefully and safely .

July 10, 2013 22:51
Temple Mount aerial from north

Temple Mount aerial from north 370. (photo credit:

On the eve of Ramadan, a number of Palestinians in east Jerusalem expressed happiness to welcome the holiest month of the year, coupled by frustration regarding alleged Israeli Police restrictions on non- Israeli citizens attempting to pray at Al Aksa Mosque, on the Temple Mount.

Al-Aksa (Arabic for “the farthest mosque”) plays a pivotal role in observance of the holiday, as a chapter in the Koran entitled “The Night Journey” states that the prophet Muhammad delivered the Koran from Mecca to the holy site, shortly before rising to heaven.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Wednesday that at least 50,000 Muslims are expected to pray at Al- Aksa on Friday, with the number rising exponentially every week – peaking at roughly 150,000 during the last Friday of the holiday.

“It’s a respectable festival and we’re fully aware of its importance,” he said. “That’s why at least 3,000 Israeli Police will be based in and around the Old City to ensure it is secure and to make sure that the thousands of people have access to the mosque.”

However, according to several Palestinians in east Jerusalem Wednesday afternoon, a restrictive Israeli Police presence makes it exceedingly difficult for Muslims to pray at Al-Aksa without an official Israeli ID.

Outside of Damascus Gate, Khaled, 17, of east Jerusalem, who requested his last name be omitted, said he becomes frustrated every Ramadan because police overseeing passage to the Temple Mount prevent many young Muslims from entering.

“The Israelis try to stop us because they don’t want Muslim’s in Jerusalem,” said Khaled. “The first time they see a person without an Israeli ID they say you can’t come in.

The second time they hit or arrest them.”

Firas, a middle-aged cab driver from east Jerusalem, who also asked that his last name not be published, concurred that police don’t allow the majority of Muslims attempting to pray at Al-Aksa during Ramadan to do so.

“Anyone who has a Palestinian ID can’t pray at Al Aksa Mosque unless they have Israeli citizenship,” he said. “Unless you have a special permit, you are not allowed to come to Al-Aksa to pray.”

Gahssan, another east Jerusalem resident who requested his last name not be published, said there are exceptions to the tight Israeli restrictions during the holy month.

“The only time there’s no big problems for us is on the four Friday’s of the month and on Isra’a and Mearaj [“The Night Journey”], at midnight on July 27,” he said.

However, Rosenfeld, who described Ramadan as “normally quiet” and “peaceful,” patently denied the assertion that police unfairly restrict Muslim parishioners from gaining entry to holy site.

According to Rosenfeld “standard security measures” will be implemented by Israeli Police during the month.

“Israeli Police have assessed the security situation for the month of Ramadan and security measures will be implemented on the first Friday of the holiday to ensure safety and allow the thousands of people expected to come and pray.”

Rosenfeld added that Border Police units will work in coordination with the IDF and Israeli Police at checkpoints to guarantee the thousands of Muslims legally coming to Jerusalem can do so safely.

Ahmad, a 20-year-old student from Ramallah, said that while he was excited to be in Jerusalem for the first night of Ramadan, he was troubled that other friends and family members were unable to receive the same necessary approvals to join him.

“The police stop many people from coming here, unless they are Israeli citizens, are an old man or a woman,” he said. “I was lucky to get the papers.”

Mohammad Hurini, 30, of Ramallah, said he was permitted to enter Jerusalem and pray at Al-Aksa after obtaining the necessary paperwork from the Israeli government granting entrance into the city.

Still, he claimed the police restrict young men from climbing the Temple Mount, even with legal permission.

“We have many problems with the police because we can’t go to Al-Aksa anytime, except Fridays – otherwise, if you’re under 50 and a man, they won’t let you in,” he said. “This makes us feel bad because we want to go to pray.”

According to Rosenfeld, age restrictions are discretionary and rarely enforced during Ramadan, unless an imminent security risk has been detected.

“We want to ensure that everyone who wants to pray at The Temple Mount can do so safely,” he said. “If safety is compromised we have to assess the situation and act accordingly.”

Hurini’s fiancée, Asrar Hatu, also of Ramallah, took out her paperwork, which only allows her to pray for one day at the mosque.

“With this paper I can pray, but without it I couldn’t get into Jerusalem,” she said. “I got the papers this month and it was difficult to get because of background checks.”

Still, Hatu conceded that obtaining government permission to come to Jerusalem for Ramadan was far easier than at any other time of the year.

“I filled out the application and got my papers in two or three days, but for any other time you can’t get the papers unless you are ill or have a specific reason to be here,” she said.

“So he has 30 days and I have only one,” Hatu added.

Meanwhile, Fawsie Ragbe, an unemployed father of five living in the Old City, said he eagerly awaits Ramadan every year and has never experienced any difficulties due to the police.

“Ramadan is good, I never have any problems” said Ragbe. “All the people here have been waiting for it. We sit together as family and friends and eat together. Now that it’s the first day of Ramadan I bring all my family to eat with me at my home.”

“It’s very beautiful,” Ragbe added with a smile.

According to Islamic tradition, Allah revealed the Koran to Muhammad during Ramadan, which is designated as a time for introspection, similar to Yom Kippur.

During the 30-day period, Muslims refrain from food and beverages from dawn until dusk.

While Ramadan is most associated with daily fasting, which is broken during festive nightly communal meals called “iftars,” fasting is only one of the five elements of the holiday, which also include abstaining from sexual activity, evil acts, thoughts and words.

This year’s Ramadan was scheduled to begin earlier in the week, but was postponed until Wednesday when Muslim clerics could not detect a crescent moon Monday night during a ceremony that determines the holiday’s official start.

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