Al-Aqsa prayers on fourth Friday in Ramadan – and Ramadan traffic jams

Today is the fourth Friday in Ramadan, and some 3,000 Israeli police and soldiers have been deployed, Kol Israel radio reported this morning, to ensure security at prayers at Al-Aqsa mosque.

The Jerusalem Post reported that: “Jerusalem Police were on high alert ahead of the final Friday Muslim prayers of Ramadan in the Old City”.

Kol Israel’s report said that “Arab Israelis” — presumably including Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, who are not “citizens” but who have permanent residency status — can access Al-Aqsa freely for prayers, but “young” people from the West Bank cannot. For those from Gaza, of course, it has long been out of the question.

Helicopters were heard flying overhead in northern districts of Jerusalem, far from the Old City — presumably on their way to Qalandia/Kalandia checkpoint, where thousands of believers prayed last week facing water cannons and police and soldiers in riot formation.

The AP later reported that “Thousands of Palestinians thronged military checkpoints on the outskirts of Jerusalem on Friday, trying to reach a major Muslim shrine in the city for Ramadan prayers despite an Israel Defense Forces closure. IDF troops were deployed at crossing points from the West Bank into Jerusalem to control the crowds trying to get to the Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site, before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan draws to a close next week. At the Qalandiyah checkpoint north of Jerusalem, harried troops waved clubs, shouted and occasionally used stun grenades as Palestinians surged toward the roadblock. One elderly man fainted, and was treated by an IDF medic on the scene. No serious injuries were reported. Friday prayers at Al Aqsa regularly draw thousands of worshippers, and crowds are bigger than usual during Ramadan. Israel placed a closure on the West Bank last week citing concern of possible attacks during the seven-day Jewish festival of Sukkot. The festival ended Thursday, and the closure was set to be lifted Saturday night, an IDF spokesperson said. According to the closure orders, police were to allow passage to West Bank men over the age of 50 and women over 40, spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. More than 3,000 police were stationed around Jerusalem’s Old City to prevent disturbances during the prayers, he said. At Qalandiyah, north of Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians, most of them elderly, pushed toward troops controlling access to the passage and argued with police checking ID cards. Maher Walweil, 43, said he left his home in the West Bank city of Nablus at 4 A.M. to get to Jerusalem in time for prayers despite being aware of the age restrictions. ‘There’s a lot of soldiers here. What am I going to do against these soldiers?’ he said.” The AP report on elderly Palestinians trying to get through checkpoints to Al-Aqsa Mosque Friday prayers is here.

Ghaleb, reporting from the spot, said that the Friday prayer this week was “great!” Why? “The numbers”, he said. “Last week there were lots of people, but this week it was packed!” Asked why that made it great, Ghaleb explained “specifically, it makes you happy — well, it made me happy”.

There will apparently be a fifth Friday in Ramadan this year — next week.

It was later estimated that 135,000 worshippers were at Friday prayers at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa.

Meanwhile, on a less spiritual side, the Ramadan traffic jams that have plagued the eastern side of Jerusalem since the beginning of the holy month of fasting — as people were rushing madly to be home in time to break their fast and eat the Iftar meal with their families — have been really astonishing, and annoying. The Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem has a symphony of car horns being blown by irate fasting drivers that crescendos around 5 pm every evening. At a major intersection, cars pass furiously on the right and on the left — an astonishing sight. This year is worse than previous years, residents say.

These traffic jams have apparently also been replicated in other Palestinian cities as well. The Ma’an independent Palestinian news agency reported today that “Police in the West Bank city of Hebron said that an unprecedented number of traffic accidents took place Thursday night. In the course of 12 hours, 20 accidents occurred, injuring eight people. 14 accidents took place between 4 PM and 5:30 PM.” The Ma’an report on a record number of traffic jams last evening in Hebron is here.

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