Jerusalem Day 2008 – in Jerusalem – cont'd

The Associated Press is reporting today that, in their meeting in Jerusalem yesterday, on Jerusalem Day 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that “Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem will stay in Israel’s hands” under any final peace deal”, according to Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev”.

That means, of course, the Jewish settlements built on areas captured in the June 1967 war — that were in the WEST BANK, but which Israel soon proclaimed to be part of “Greater” Jerusalem — a subtle point often missed by those who may be unfamiliar with the geography…

Jerusalem Day 2008 – in Jerusalem

UN Secretary BAN Ki-Moon said, in a statement issued by his spokesman, that he was “deeply concerned at the recent announcement by the Israeli government to invite new tenders for construction in Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem … The Government of Israel’s continued construction in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory is contrary to international law and to its commitments under the Road Map and the Annapolis process.”

Israel again announced plans, on Sunday, to build more new homes in two settlements in the occupied West Bank the government considers part of “Greater” Jerusalem — Pisgat Ze’ev (built in the northern Jerusalem area on land confiscated from the Palestinian West Bank village of Hizma) and Har Homa(built in the southern Jerusalem area on land near Bethlehem, in an area Palestinians call Jabal Abu Ghneim).

Palestinian negotiators say that Israeli settlement activity is one of the biggest obstacles to peace — and to the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

The White House spokeswoman Dana Perino also chimed in: “Our position on the settlements is that, you know, we don’t believe that any more settlements should be built. And we know that it exacerbates the tensions when it comes to the negotiations with the Palestinians”.

Meanwhile, Israel celebrated “Jerusalem Day” today.

Embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in a holiday speech at Ammunition Hill in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood that “Today, 41 years since the Six Day War, it is time, after a great delay, to finally close the chapters of war and write a new book for Jerusalem, with its title taken from the prophecy of Isaiah, which was heard in this city 2,700 years ago and which still resonates: “How pleasant are the footsteps of the herald upon the mountains announcing peace, heralding good tidings…” However, the realization of this prophecy is currently blocked by forces of darkness. Sons of darkness, full of twisted faith, radicalism and blind in the fanaticism of those who knowingly choose the path of terror and blood in order to impose their dark existence on all of us. While we try to create a horizon of peace, hope and light, the sons of darkness are occupied with schemes of indiscriminate killing. While we turn to the other side with our hand outstretched to shake hands, they squeeze the trigger. The firing of Qassam missiles towards the Gaza Envelope communities and the city of Sderot is intolerable and unforgivable. The sons of darkness will not be exonerated of this. I say to the residents of Sderot and the Gaza Envelope: my heart and thoughts are with you. You pay the ongoing price which effects your way of life, primarily that of your children. The hour of decision is approaching, after which you too will have the longed-for quiet. The threat towards you will also be removed, one way or another. I said in the past that I prefer the path of dialogue, and indeed the Government I lead is attempting to reach a truce in this manner, but as long as all the measured steps we take do not lead to the hoped-for calm, we will be forced to turn to the sword. We will brandish it in a heavy, sharp andpainful manner. In the hopes of avoiding this turning to the sword, we will all remember that the glory of Jerusalem, like our glory as a people, is not in wars. The glory of Jerusalem is in the heralding of peace, “nation shall not lift sword against nation”; in the heralding of justice, morality and the hope that ensued and shaped the values of the enlightened world … I believe there is no contradiction between the people of Israel’s total allegiance to Jerusalem and its unity and our ambitions to create peace within it. Jerusalem is a city of many peoples. We respect all believers, preserve their holy places and are wholly committed to freedom of religion, religious worship and conscience for all residents, visitors and lovers of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the heart of the Jewish people, the axis of identity, faith and history of our people for generations. Three times a day for thousands of years, believing Jews turn their faces towards Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. The power of the emotions, and the expectation of Jerusalem which throbs in the hearts of Jews in the Diaspora – the passion of their yearning, the depth of their love and the sanctity of their prayers – they are unequaled, and secular words cannot describe them, only the language of the prophets and the poets can express them … The eternal Jewish love for and commitment to Jerusalem, which are deeper and stronger than any other, stood behind the decisions of the Israeli Government and Knesset to unify the city 41 years ago, with the support of the entire nation. They ensure Israeli sovereignty in historic and sacred Jerusalem forever” …

The UN does not recognize the Israeli unilateral extension of its sovereignty over Jerusalem — miuch less “Greater” Jerusalem.

Last night — we are told now — the general closure was lifted

One of the bad things about this occupation is that no one ever really knows what’s going on, or what will happen to his or her life.

The IDF spokeperson has now announced this morning that : “The general closure of the Judea and Samaria region and the Gaza Strip was lifted yesterday, March 9th, at midnight, following security assessments. Throughout the closure, the passage of the following cases was permitted: medical personnel, NGO members, religious workers, humanitarian cases, teachers, lawyers and prisoners’ families on their way to court, residents of Jabal Mukabar, Beit-Safafa, Hizma and Bir Una, as well as Palestinian workers under the auspices of District Coordination and Liaison offices”.

But what are all the planes and helicopters flying overhead?

In normal places, that means normal civilian activity.

Here, it generally means trouble.

Hatred and murder are in the air

Earlier, I wrote elsewhere that for months, Palestinians have been saying with concern, the feeling of a new Intifada is in the air.

But an Intifada is an uprising, a protest against the occupation, a movement for liberation, for a better life — for life.

Today, hatred and murder are in the air.

Someone — yes, a terrorist, but we do not yet know which type — entered the library of a religious Jewish school in West Jerusalem tonight, a school apparently closely affiliated with a fervent settler movement, and fired hundreds of bullets. So far, at least 8 are confirmed dead.

Israel’s YNet news websited reported later that “The seminar is the Mercaz Harav yeshiva in the Kiryat Moshe quarter of Jerusalem, a well-known center of Jewish studies identified with the leadership of the settlement movement”. This article can be found here .

The terrorist was killed, too. How?

The Jerusalem Post has just reported that “Yitzhak Dadon, a student, said he was armed with a rifle and waited on the roof of a nearby building. “He came out of the library spraying automatic fire … the terrorist came to the entrance and I shot him twice in the head,” he said“.

This is a school in the holy city of Jerusalem which has armed and apparently student volunteer snipers — not members of an official police or security or military force — posted on the roof of a nearby building?

This JPost story is published here.

UPDATE: Haaretz later reported that “Jerusalem District police chief Aharon Franco said the terrorist entered the yeshiva, pulled out an automatic weapon from his bag and began firing in all directions. An Israel Defense Forces paratrooper who had his weapon with him engaged the terrorist in a gun battle, and two police detectives who arrived on the scene also fired at the assailant. The terrorist was killed in the incident. Security officials said the terrorist was a resident of East Jerusalem”. The Haaretz story is posted here .

YNet later added: “A yeshiva student who shot the Jerusalem terrorist says he was busy studying when suddenly shots rang out, prompting him to grab his gun and eventually kill the Palestinian attacker. ‘We realized something happened so I cocked my handgun’, Yitzhak Dadon told Ynet Thursday evening. ‘I went up on the roof and waited for the terrorist. Meanwhile, I saw blood and shattered glass’, Dadon said. ‘The terrorist continue firing in the air, so I waited to see him again, and then I shot him twice in the head’. Dadon says the terrorist continued firing even after he was hurt. ‘He kept on firing until an IDF officer arrived and shot him again’, Dadon said”. This apparently more complete account is published here .

The Associated Press reported that “Israeli defense officials said the attacker came from east Jerusalem, the predominantly Palestinian section of the city. Jerusalem’s Palestinians have Israeli ID cards that give them freedom of movement inside Israel, unlike Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza … After the shooting, hundreds of seminary students demonstrated outside the building, screaming for revenge and chanting, “Death to Arabs” … This was the first major attack by Palestinian militants on the Jewish side of Jerusalem in the last four years, although police and the military claimed to have foiled many attempts. Between 2001 and 2004, at the height of Palestinian-Israeli fighting, Jerusalem was a frequent target of Palestinian attacks, including suicide bombings on buses”. This report is here .

This attack is similar to one carried out a month or two ago in a huge settlement block known as Gush Etzion in the southern West Bank. The attackers were reportedly two Palestinians who had recently been released from prison for membership in, supposedly, either Hamas or Islamic Jihad, I think (but often these claims of attacks are not reliable) — they were killed by an armed guard.

But that was in a militant settlement block.

This attack was in Jerusalem.

Only hours earlier, even before this attack, and in advance of the Friday holy day here, the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem sent out this warning: “Protests Expected in Old City This Friday, Consulate Staff Advised to Avoid Area. The Israeli National Police are reporting the possibility of a large protest on and near the Haram Al-Sharif /Temple Mount and the Old City this Friday, March 7, 2008 in protest of the ongoing situation in Gaza. There is expected to be a heavy police presence in and around the Old City which may spark disturbances at entry points including Damascus, Herod’s and Lion’s Gates. Protests sometimes lead to violent clashes, and the Consulate General is recommending its employees avoid the area in and around the Old City all day … While there is no specific information indicating a threat to Americans or American interests, there is the potential for heightened tensions. Random checkpoints and closures of crossings from the West Bank into Israel can be expected. In addition, planned and spontaneous demonstrations may occur in Jerusalem, in the vicinity of the Old City and outlying areas”.

So, the checkpoints will be impossible for the coming days.

And, the Foreign Press Association in Israel also sent out this notice to its members today: “The FPA has received a call from the US Consulate in Jerusalem today, warning American and foreign journalists of intention by some groups in Gaza to abduct them. The Consulate reiterates its warning against travel to Gaza in the light of this warning. We do not know any more details about the threat or its credibility, but we will circulate details as soon as we do.”

On the 18th of February, the FPA informed its members that: “In recent days the FPA has received a number of separate reports from colleagues in Gaza suggesting a renewed threat to foreign journalists.  These threats come from the Army of Islam and there have been reports of gunmen entering hotels and checking for the presence of foreign journalists.  It is hard to deliver an accurate assessment of how serious this threat is but we urge all members to be extra vigilant and to consider their profile and exposure while working in Gaza.  We will distribute additional information as we get it.
Please send in any information you may have”.

Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem – Eid prayers this morning – for the feast of the sacrifice

This morning, the big holiday or Eid prayers were held under under the rain at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. This Eid is the big holiday for Muslims, and it commemorates the sacrifice that Abraham was fortunately stopped from carrying out with his son as the sacrificial offering — so he substituted a sheep, instead. So, to commemorate, Muslims worldwide will traditionally sacrifice a lamb or goat or cow today — and then will prepare a special holiday meal for their families, while giving much of the meat away to the poor.

This feast falls towards the end of the Hajj, or pilgrimage, to Mecca, attended, reportedly, by some three million faithful this year — it is a duty that Muslims should perform, if they are able to do so, at least once in their lifetimes.

Dome of the Rock - Eid al-Adha -

Thanks to Ghaleb, our man on the spot, for the lovely photos.

Eid prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound

Al-Aqsa Mosque – Eid morning

More photos — with acknowledgement and many thanks to him — from Ghaleb Mashni, our “reporter on the spot” at Al-Aqsa Mosque for holiday prayers on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, after the end of the sacred month of Ramadan.

After prayers, in the streets of the Old City of East Jerusalem, trays of Kaak (a delicious, somewhat chewy white bread covered with sesame seeds) for sale, still hot from the oven.

Kaak al-Eid outside Al-Aqsa Mosque


Worshippers milling around on the grounds of the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex — the Dome of the Rock is in the background, shining in the rays of the morning sun on Friday, the first day of Eid, after the end of Ramadan 07. What looks like a Palestinian Authority banner is hung over the arches — apparently wishing the Palestinian faithful a happy holiday.

Worshippers before Eid Prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque


The entrance to Al-Aqsa Mosque itself, on Friday morning, the first day of Eid. Who put up that portrait of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat?

Al-Aqsa Mosque - Eid morning


Families walking through the streets of the Old City in East Jerusalem, on their way to holiday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque on the first day of Eid.

Families walking through the narrow streets of the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday morning.

Ramadan is over!

The new moon was apparently sighted in Jordan, or was it in Saudi Arabia? In any case, Ramadan is now officially over, and the Eid (Feast or Holiday) will be Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. As of this afternoon, it was not clear whether Ramadan would end tonight, or tomorrow night. But by the evening time, it became clear. So, there will be no fifth Friday in Ramadan this year. But, there will be more demand than ever to get to Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of East Jerusalem — first for the dawn prayers, then for the mid-morning Eid prayer which is very special, and which everybody will try to get to, even if they don’t normally make an effort to go to the mosque to pray. And then, of course, there will be the Friday Juma’a prayers at mid-day.

How the Israeli authorities will handle the special demand to get to Al-Aqsa this Friday will be very important. Throughout Ramadan, Israeli Arabs and Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have had the pleasure of free access to Al-Aqsa, while Palestinians in the West Bank have been quite frustrated.

UPDATE: The IDF and “the [Israeli, of course] Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories” have just announced that “in order to facilitate the observance of all religious ceremonies taking place during this holiday period” [four days, according to the IDF announcment], “Palestinian Muslim men over the age of 50, Muslim women over the age of 25 and children under the age of 16, who are residents of the Judea and Samaria region [the West Bank], will be authorized to pass into Israel for family visits.   In addition, Israeli Arabs will be authorized to enter the Palestinian cities in the region of Judea and Samaria for family visits”.

Yesterday, in Ramallah, we heard of a Palestinan man who had finally received a permit to go to pray at Al-Aqsa earlier in the day — then he was hit by a car on the way, and taken to hospital in critical condition. His family was gathered at Qalandia/Kalandia checkpoint in a frenzy, trying to get through to be by his bedside — but they could not pass.

Going to Ramallah, a white Israeli police vehicle (there are white police cars, and also olive green police jeeps that look exactly like IDF jeeps did a few years ago — maybe they were just recycled) stopped two cars ahead of us, and ticketed people in both cars for various infractions. In the second car, a passenger received a ticket with a 100 shekel fine, for not wearing a seat belt — in the back seat! Maybe he had undone it in order to retrieve his ID card from his pocket …

Because the police were busy with these infractions at the very gate, a number of cars behind were allowed to pass without any inspection …

Al-Aqsa Mosque – 250,000 attended Laylat al-Qadr last night

According to Ma’an, the independent Palestinian news agency, some 250,000 faithful attended night prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in east Jerusalem last night. It was Laylat al-Qadr, or “the night of Power”, which is the most important night of the holy month of Ramadan. By agreement, apparently, Laylat al-Qadr is marked on the 27th night of Ramadan.

The end of Ramadan should be on Friday.

In my neighborhood, there were groups of tens of young Palestinian men, looking uncertain, but eager to somehow get through the checkpoints to be at Al-Aqsa. Their chances of getting through were almost zero.

Ma’an news agency also reported that Israeli police used stun grenades to dissuade the faithful from assembling for Laylat al-Qadr at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, where it is believed that Abraham — the founder of the three monotheistic religions — is buried.

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.