You know it’s Ramadan when traffic problems become unbearable in East Jerusalem (everybody rushes home to eat at the same time, and you’d think their lives depend on their passing on the right and on the left simultaneously — creating a six-lane highway going up to the Mount of Olives, for example, when there is only one lane in each direction.) What would happen if they break their fast ten minutes later? Or bring a little thermos of water or tea, and a few dates, so they could survive an extra 15 minutes without imposing a gleefully aggressive road rage in East Jerusalem?)
You know it’s Ramadan when the Israeli Border Police put extra “flying checkpoints” everywhere in the Palestinian part of the “Greater Jerusalem municipality”. Coming home on Road One on the first night of Ramadan about 7:30 in the evening — just after the breaking of the fast — there was a complete road block in the direction going north, with tire-punctering spikes laid down on the road, flares lit, and guys with guns and lights they shined directly in the driver’s eyes to wave them over. “What’s the problem?”, I asked, after I was pulled over. They replied in Hebrew: “Good evening. We just wanted to say good evening. You can go.” Of course, they do realize how scary this is … and for nothing.
You know it’s Ramadan when you see dozens of mostly men detained at the side of the roads by the Border Police at various interchanges in the northern East Jerusalem, just before the time to break the fast.
And, you know it’s Ramadan and at the checkpoints from the West Bank into Jerusalem (especially in and around the main Qalandia “border crossing”), and at the Jerusalem internal checkpoints (Dahiet al-Bariid, also known as ar-Ram), are completely blocked for no visible reason — other than the fact that there is no Palestinian police presence, or even the presence of just traffic cops, allowed anywhere near the vicinity of these checkpoints, because this might threaten the heavily armed Israeli soldiers, border police, and private security contractors (in navy blue bullet-proof vests) at the checkpoints.
Massive — really huge, almost unbelievable — logjams are created, and they are not untangled for hours, as everybody swelters and sweats in the dust and confusion and tension and stress and diesel fumes, while trying to avoid being crushed by the huge trucks loaded with cut stone or building materials, under the hot, hot, burning hot sun, while most of the trapped people are fasting.
Young men or “shebab” from Qalandia came out and voluntarily coordinated the traffic direction around Qalandia on Monday afternoon to untangle the mess. This time, they did not ask for cash contributions. But people remember when, during the height of the Intifada, there was actually a toll — ten shekels were demanded, and receipts were given to those who paid, so they would not have to pay twice. All this under the eyes of a heavily armed and substantial Israeli military presence, which does not care what happens to those in and approaching their checkpoints.
When I finally got to the military control point at my checkpoint the other day, I complained to the soldiers about people cutting in the line — the long, long line, of 20 cars or more under the hot sun. (I actually had complained to the driver who let them cut, and his reply was that the did not want his car rammed — under the watchful eyes of the soldiers, of course, who would do nothing.)
In response to my complaint, the soldier replied that he didn’t care what we did (while waiting in line). “If you don’t care what we do, then why are you here, and with your guns??”, was my reply. “Khalass” (stop it), he replied (in Russian-accented Arabic) with a weary patronizing tone.