This is the fourth — but perhaps not last — Friday in Ramadan.
UPDATE TWO: AFP reported that Israeli police put the number of worshippers [at what AFP called the heavily-guarded Al-Aqsa mosque] at 160,000 to 170,000, while Muslim authorities said it exceeded 200,000. In his Friday sermon Sheikh Yusef Abu Sneineh criticised the relaunch on Thursday of Middle East peace talks in Washington, saying ‘these negotiations are a joke’. He went on to accuse Israel of seeking normalisation with the Arab and Muslim world while ‘continuing its colonisation’ of the occupied West Bank through the building of Jewish settlements … Israel limited access to the compound to men over the age of 50, women over the age of 40 and children, and only granted visiting permits to a limited number of Palestinians from the occupied West Bank”. This report is posted here.
Next Friday will probably be the first day of the three-day post-Ramadan Muslim holiday, or Eid (often translated as “feast”). But, if the new crescent moon is not spotted by experts in Saudi Arabia, or Egypt, or somewhere nearby, then it will be the fifth Friday in Ramadan 2010…
But, Israeli military permits to allow West Bank Palestinians to go to pray — as they most fervently wish — at the revered Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem (a big exception to the general ban on entry of West Bank Palestinians, except those with work permits, or other categories of exception, during the rest of the year) are given only for four Fridays in Ramadan…
A photo essay published by Ma’an News Agency showing the conditions of passage for Palestinian worshippers with special prayer permits during one of the Fridays in Ramadan has been published here.
UPDATE THREE: Ma’an has just published another photo essay from today’s conditions of passage for Palestinian worshippers at the main Bethlehem checkpoint, here. The accompanying text reported that “Checkpoints around the West Bank were again overwhelmed, with tens of thousands of men and women lining up from the early hours of the morning, waiting to access Jerusalem”. Yes, “the checkpoints were again overwhelmed” — and the people were totally stressed.
But, today, this is it — the annual opening of the gate to the general Palestinian public (though, it must be said, only for those who fulfill whatever the latest specified criteria might be, such as married men over a certain age, whether 45 or 50, and for women over a certain age, like 35 and married, e.g.) — for this year.
But, it was no longer a surprise that, at 07:30 this morning (an hour and a half after Qalandia opened for passage of Palestinian worshippers, specified humanitarian cases, and workers), an SMS came announcing tighter special restrictions for entry into the Old City today [probably due to the attacks for the past three nights on cars in which Israeli settlers were driving in the West Bank].
Every year for the past five years or so that The Wall and associated checkpoint restrictions have been an enormous obstacle to Palestinian passage, the last Friday in Ramadan has always been the most difficult and restrictive.
Last year, for example, the Israeli military cancelled overnight permits they had issued weeks before. When Palestinians arrived, some unaware of the decision, some saw their permits pocketed, or torn into pieces in front of their faces, by Israeli Border Police.
UPDATE: The Israeli military has just apparently decided to extend the prayer permits it issued for today to have validity also on Sunday, which will be Laylat al-Qadr (the Night of Power, a specially holy day that occurs at some point during the last ten days of Ramadan).
UPDATE ADD: However, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem has issued a Warden Message informing recipients that “Due to heightened tensions and increased security presence after the August 31 and September 1 attacks in the West Bank, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem has prohibited all Consulate personnel from personal travel to the West Bank, including along routes 1 and 90 and on the Allenby Bridge, Saturday-Monday, September 4-6, 2010. Due to the large crowds expected in the Old City, the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem is also prohibiting Consulate staff from visiting the Old City Sunday-Monday September 5-6, 2010”.
Laylat al-Qadr was mentioned a number of times in the Friday prayer sermon given by the PA (Palestinian Authority) Minister of Awqaf, Mahmoud al-Habbash, broadcast on Palestininian TV. This week, Palestine TV showed the Friday prayer and sermon that was held in a mosque in Ramallah. Unlike others who have been shown giving a Friday prayer sermon on Palestine TV, Habbash spoke without prepared notes. His sermon, however, was particularly tied into recent news events, including the talks held in Washington over the past two days. “President Obama talked only about Israeli security”, Habbash complained.
He also seemed to be urging Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to take up an offer made a couple of months ago by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu — who offered to come even to Ramallah for talks. After this, there were hints in the Israeli media that military restrictions on Israeli travel into the West Bank — even to Areas A, supposedly under total PA security control — might be lifted [though the attacks, by as-yet-unidentified assailants, on cars driven by Israeli settlers in the West Bank over the last three nights might, or might not, modify this leaked proposal].
In any case, Habbash seemed to be saying that Abbas should insist, and shoulid issue his own invitation, and should open the way, for a visit to the West Bank by Netanyahu — so that Netanyahu can see for himself the conditions of occupation under which Palestinians are living.