4th Friday in Ramadan 2010

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.

A wonderful 360 degree view of Al-Aqsa Mosque

There is a beautiful 360 degree tour of the interior of Al-Aqsa Mosque here in the Old City of East Jerusalem.

I first spotted it on the website of the Dajani family, who have played an important role in Jerusalem history, here

UPDATE: As the comments note below, this tour is originally taken from a the website of a Turkish media company, here: here.

It's Friday – protests in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem + West Bank

Today is Friday. Palestinian television will normally be show the Friday prayers from Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, located in the Old City of East Jerusalem, but this Friday Palestinian TV will broadcast live from Burrin, a village in the northern West Bank, near Nablus, where a mosque under construction, the Suliman al-Pharisee Mosque, was served a demolition order, just five days ago — last Sunday, the day on which the Palestinian presidential and legislative elections were supposed to have been held, before they were postponed.  The mosque has been entirely built (on Burrin land classified as Arab B), and it’s all finished, except for the minaret…

And, at 3:00 in the afternoon, as they have for nearly four months, a new and growing coalition of Israeli anti-occupation activists will meet to demonstrate their opposition to Jewish settlers replacing Palestinian families in East Jerusalem homes built for them by the UN refugee agency, UNRWA, in Sheikh Jarrah, in the early 1950s under the Jordanian administration. The police have refused to give the activists a permit. But a judge has ruled on Thursday that no permit is needed, as long as the activists don’t block the streets, or make political speeches.

UPDATE: Here is a photo just posted by Didi Remez on Facebook, showing the Israeli author David Grossman – in center of photo below – attending this week’s protest at Sheikh Jarrah just before 3:00pm – (photo apparently taken by Itamar Broderson). Grossman is one of Israel’s most celebrated novelists, and is also a supporter of the Geneva Initiative between Palestinian and Israeli “civil society”, and bereaved father of an IDF soldier who was killed just hours before the end of Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon.

David Grossman at Sheikh Jarrah just before 3pm this Friday 29 Jan 2010 - via Didi Remez

UPDATE: Bernard Avishai reported later on his blog (here) that Dr. Ron Pundak of the Peres Peace Center, and another supporter of the Geneva Initiative, was also present.

UPDATE: IPCRI’s co-director Gershon Baskin reported via Facebook before sunset that the Sheikh Jarrah demonstration is over — “and no one was arrested this week”.

HOWEVER, in the West Bank, it was different. The IDF spokespersons unit reported via Twitter that:
– “120 rioters, hurling rocks @ violent protest @ Bi’lin, security forces responding w riot dispersal mean”
– “100 rioters hurling rocks @ violent protest @Nil’in, security forces responding w riot dispersal means”
– “100 rioters hurling rocks @ violent protest @ Dir Hidhan N of Ramallah, security forces responding w riot dispersal means”

Continue reading It's Friday – protests in Sheikh Jarrah, East Jerusalem + West Bank

The Fourth Friday in Ramadan at Qalandia checkpoint: Segur (CLOSED) + Machsom Watch Report on the Third Friday

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”.

Continue reading The Fourth Friday in Ramadan at Qalandia checkpoint: Segur (CLOSED) + Machsom Watch Report on the Third Friday

You know it's Ramadan when …

Well, you know it’s Ramadan when religious authorities confirm that they’ve spotted the new moon that marks the beginning of the holy month of fasting and intensified spirituality, right?

Another way you know is when you receive the traditional notice from the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) about the control measures they have decided to implement during this holy month.

Last year, they were rather harsh. This year, there seems to be a softening in tone. Here is their notice, sent out overnight:

August 31st, 2008

“Easing of Restrictions on the Palestinian population during the ‘Ramadan’ Period and Eid ul-Fitr

“The IDF and the Civil Administration are preparing for the upcoming ‘Ramadan’ period which starts tomorrow, 1/9/2008, and is followed by the Muslim holiday of Eid ul-Fitr, to be observed by Palestinian Muslims in the Judea and Samaria region.

“According to the decision of the Minister of Defense, during the month of Ramadan, Palestinians who meet the following criteria will be permitted to attend Friday prayers on the Temple Mount [n.b., this term signifies the place where the first and second Jewish temples are believed to have been situated.  The second temple was destroyed on Roman orders in 70 a.d.  Since the s:

* Married men between the ages 45-50 and married women between the ages of 30-45 who have received permission from the Civil Administration.
* Men over the age of 50 and women over the age of 45 will be allowed to enter freely.

The following steps were decided upon in order improve the daily life of the Palestinian population in the Judea and Samaria region during this period. The decision to take these steps was made following security assessments by the IDF Central Command and the Civil Administration. During the Ramadan and Eid ul-Fitr period:

* The opening hours of different checkpoints will be extended.
* Israeli Arabs will be allowed to enter area A.
* The transfer of gifts to Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli prisons will be authorized.

In addition, officers from the Civil Administration held meetings with senior Palestinian religious representatives (from the Muslim Waqf) and were updated on the prayer times and religious events expected to take place during this period.

Furthermore, representatives of the Civil Administration briefed the forces operating in the region and distributed leaflets explaining the times, dates and customs relating to the Holiday . Soldiers were directed to show consideration for the population and were instructed to avoid eating, drinking and smoking in populated areas, with an emphasis on the crossings points.

The ‘Ramadan”‘period, which this year takes place between the dates 1/09/08-30/09/08, marks the month, in which according to Muslim tradition, Prophet Muhammad received the Koran”.