On Thursday, the IDF announced a “total closure” of the West Bank until “after” (whatever that means) the Jewish New Year holiday of Rosh Hashona.
On Friday, the fourth and last Friday of the sacred month of Ramadan, there were relatively few Palestinians at the main Qalandia checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem — but there were still thousands.
And many of them were people with permits to go to Al-Aqsa mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, where nearly every Palestinian Muslim longs to be, as much as possible, during Ramadan. Many of these people came, with their permits, from far reaches in the northern West Bank, from Nablus, and Jenin, as well as from Tulkarem and elsewhere — only to find that their permits were no longer valid.
They were not told why.
One of the veteran observers from Machsom Watch (Checkpoint Watch, an organization of Israeli women who monitor the abuses at the checkpoints) explained that all the permits were cancelled when IDF the closure order was given on Thursday.
But the soldiers didn’t even bother to say this. All they said was SEGUR — “closed”, as in “completely closed”.
“Didn’t they know there would be this closure when they issued the permits?”, asked one stunned lady engineer from the northern West Bank, who turned up with her husband in the hopes of getting to Al-Aqsa. “We could have stayed home with our babies, and not gone to all this expense or effort”, she said.
The people who turned up at the checkpoint were on their 29th day of the Ramadan fast — and did not even drink water as they milled about in confusion, in the morning heat, under a burning sun.
Many of the men were stunned, but restrained, when Israeli forces (there were several different services present) simply told them “SEGUR” . Some had their permits torn up before their eyes. They mostly did not react.
Some got across the first or second police barriers, and then were turned back. Some of them had tears in their eyes, and their jaws trembled.
At one point, the Israeli military told the men that if they lined up nicely, they would all get through. “A lie, as usual”, said another experienced Machsom Watch observer, shaking her head.
Then, the Israeli forces called out for all those who had permits to go to work at the nearby Atarot Industrial Complex — they would be allowed through.
One man, with his 11-year old daughter, had an Israeli pass for any moment, anywhere, under all conditions (including closure), and the Israeli military man with black sunglasses and a black baseball cap (does that mean he was with the IDF’s DCO. District Coordination Office?) then just took away his permit, and put it in his trouser pocket.
One of the Machsom Watch women said, aside, “that is completely forbidden”. She told the man that she would make sure he got his permit back.
Otherwise, only “old people” got through — the men over 50, and the women over 45. Some were much older, and a few could not really walk very well, or suffered other disabilities. They went by themselves, without the assistance of younger family members.
The reports from Jerusalem suggest that far fewer numbers than usual were allowed into Jerusalem to pray. Only some 75,000 made it to Al-Aqsa (including those from Israel’s north and south, and from East Jerusalem, who have free access to the Old City. By contrast, at least 300,000 Muslims prayed at Al-Aqsa on Wednesday night, the Night of Power “Laylat al-Qadr”, the 27th night of Ramadan, which commemorates the Qur’anic account of the night journey of Mohammed to heaven from the mosque esplanade. Some of them reportedly stayed at Al-Aqsa or nearby since Wednesday, in order to be sure that they could be present for the last Friday’s prayers during this year’s Ramadan, held today.
That was probably the point — it was the eve of the Jewish New Year holiday, and many Jewish worshippers were making their way through the same narrow OldCity streets as the Muslim worshippers, because the Western Wall, the most holy site in Judaism, is just below the mosque esplanade where the Muslim faithful were headed.
UPDATE: Later reports indicated that the very important Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron will be closed to Palestinian Muslims during the Jewish Rosh Hashona, and also during the Muslim Eid. Abraham and his wife Sarah are believed to be buried in this mosque, which has been “shared” under Israeli control and Israeli rules that have only tightened since the massacre of Palestinian worshippers at Ramadan dawn prayers in late February 1994 by settler Baruch Goldstein (who was beaten to death and whose tomb at the nearby Kiryat Arbaa settlement is a place for some radical Jewish pilgrimage).
The third Friday of Ramadan was the busiest and most congested — and most terrible — of this year. Last week, many Palestinians who had permits and who tried to get through were denied — and the excuse last week was “because it was too crowded”. Here is the report written by Machsom Watch observer Tamar Fleishman:
“This was the day of the women.
“We are like sardines, not human beings” – A woman said.
“We cannot let the people with permits through because of the crowding. Many who are not eligible by the official criteria have come here and are forcing their way forward. I’ve been here since seven and I cannot get the old women through” – an officer said.
This report is about some of the proud women, a few of the many who stood upright, unvanquished by rifles, the scathing sun nor the frailty of their own bodies, women who ventured out early in the morning, heading for their holy shrine, wishing to offer prayers to their maker and practice their faith.
These are women whose world view is not anchored in either feminism or Marxism, who are not political, nor versed in human rights. Most of them live in a submissive, conservative religious reality. Their upbringing has not led them to break shackles but rather to bear the burden, accept daily toil and trouble and the sorrow of their heart with acquiescence.
But there comes a moment in the life of a society when the collective rises above the individual’s conventions, when the general becomes the particular. This is a moment at which a point of support grows into a tremendous fulcrum in a magnificent show of pride and determination.
Perhaps these women, unfortunates arriving from distant parts, not speaking the language of the sovereign, perhaps they shall raise the torch of protest in the way we witnessed today – in non-violent protest, facing the gun-barrels proud and determined.
This is the story of thousands (or tens-of-thousands or hundreds-of-thousands) of women, those who did answer to the criteria of age, and those who have not yet aged enough, and even when the hope to reach their goal was quenched they did not surrender and go back home, but rather knelt (like men) and prayed. Some of them in a second row to the men, facing the front of the checkpoint that welcomes all who enter it with the festive “kul ‘aam wa antum bekheir” holiday greeting, and the others who could not even make it to the checkpoint and offered their prayers upon the filthy soil in front of the [Qalandia] refugee camp.
And when their prayers were over they clung to each other in a crowd and sang the songs of their homeland and cried out to the occupier (and to us) – in their fury and rage for the injustice dealt them. And they remained standing there even as the ‘humanitarian’ officer came out and asked them to go home, for the crossing is closed and no one gets through. When they did not oblige, the request turned into a demand and a scolding. And time passed and the women persisted. And an hour went by, and another half-an-hour.
‘This is the real Sumud’ said my friend Tammi, as precise and as right as she always is.
“Calling all heads” (= commanders, in army jargon), the cry rang out and the officers gathered to brain-storm. Suddenly the gates were opened. The uniformed men magically disappeared, and as if some barricades were torn down, the crowd of women broke like a tidal wave towards the checkpoint building.
This was not relief nor surrender. It was a base, filthy manipulation on the part of the mighty, the subduer, the proven upper hand who wished to relieve its men.
The crowds of women filled the waiting shed, the cages, pressed against the fences. Not an army stood there to stop them, only the metal of fences and bars.
And they – still reluctant to surrender to insult and deception, refuse to turn back. Even after time went by, as thousands were already on their way back from the Friday prayers at Al Aqsa Mosque, they still stood there as if waiting for a miracle that had tarried on this day.
And we, watching across the way, are here to tell the praises of the old woman who dared rebel against the kingdom, who fell to the ground at the feet of the soldiers and refused to budge. Even when a rosy colored Arabic-speaking officer was summoned to her and tried to show authority, she wouldn’t relent and clung to the ground while reaching her hands out to him and mumbling one single phrase. “She doesn’t want a man to help. You help her” he told us. Vivi knelt at her side and heard the woman’s demand: she remains on the ground until her daughter is brought to her from the other side of the ring of soldiers! ‘This woman doesn’t understand Arabic’ said the rosy soldier, pointing to Vivi, while it was obvious to all present that Vivi not only knows Arabic but understands the old woman’s frame of mind much better than he does. He then made another lame effort: ‘They’re so manipulative! Every time they tell a different story…’
We shall tell of the woman who tripped and fell in between the barbed wire coils and Border Patrolmen pushing the mobile metal barriers against her body as she shrieked in pain and fear, and they, merely following their commander’s orders, continued to push the barriers against the body sprawled on the ground amidst the thorns and metal barbs.
We shall hail the paramedics, who – they testify – have never known such a terrible day, as they gave care and treated dozens of people, and when the pressure outside the fences mounted, one of them climbed the wall, over two meters high, and ‘fished’ children in distress to pass them over to a roomier spot.
Beside the praises, we shall tell of the army’s ‘humanitarian gestures’ bequeathed unto the Palestinians on this day:
– humanitarian horses mounted by humanitarian horsemen to fix the humanitarian waiting line as a neat single file so that order should reign supreme and the instruction ‘Get back!’ enforced;
– a humanitarian officer gently lifting a girl who lost her way into the tight soldier line and returning her to the other side of the barrier, the blocked side;
– the same humanitarian officer, in a further gesture, gave an exhausted woman a drink of Israeli army water in view of the media cameras;
– a humanitarian tent was installed close to the men’s line – where the soldiers ate and drank so as not to add to the fasting crowd’s distress;
– even the ever-locked latrines were opened for a limited period of time and then locked again as the time of humanitarian gestures ran out’
Qalandiya as it imprinted itself on our mind this day is our Qalandiya. It is the essence of the Occupation. Our Qalandiya is not that of the righteous, the improvers of checkpoint and Occupation conditions, those insisting on morality and relief. Qalandiya Checkpoint with all that it conceals and reveals, explicit and implicit, is not a necessary evil. Qalandiya Checkpoint is a superfluous evil.
The women we saw in front of us, beside us – they did not see us as their sisters but as women who belong to the ranks of rifle-holders. Can we possibly deny it and claim we are not a part of the same shame? Some of them burst out laughing as they read our tags “La lalhawajez” (= No to the checkpoints)… Indeed, what a pitiful joke we – and the likes of us – are”.