No tear gas fired at Qalandia checkpoint on the second Friday in Ramadan

There were eight Israeli snipers aiming the barrels of their weapons at the crowd trying to enter the major Qalandia “border crossing” between Ramallah and Jerusalem on the second Friday in Ramadan in order to perform Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. And there were more Palestinians hoping to get through than on the previous Friday.

A small group of those denied passage simply put their prayer rugs down, or pieces of cardboard, or newspaper, and prayed on the spot — men ahead, women behind.

But — for the first time in years — no stone was thrown by the frustrated crowd, and no tear gas or rubber bullets or stun grenades were fired by the Israeli forces.

One suggestion made by observers last week — that signs be posted at the entrance to explain procedures to the crowd — was actually implemented. Signs saying “Men only” and “Women only”, and explaining this years rules about age and permits, were posted at the concrete barrier where Israeli forces were doing a first screening of the anxious faithful who wanted badly to be allowed to go to pray.

Still, it was dramatic and difficult.

Palestinians yearning to get through Qalandia checkpoint to pray at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem

People had gone through a lot to get to Qalandia then crumpled when they thought they were being denied entrance.

Abandoned shoes — even an intact pair of children’s shoes — littered the “sterile zone” where the Palestinans had to pass to get to the full Qalandia inspection zone, as if a human or natural catastrophe had just happened.

A crowd of Palestinians trying to get into Qalandia checkpoint for admission to Jerusalem for Friday prayers.

The sun was hot, and there were no comforts for those passing to pray.

A Palestinian crosses the sterile zone to get to Qalandia checkpoint prior to passage to Jerusalem for Friday prayers.

The checkpoint controls can be called chilling, claustrophobic — and everything about them is humiliating.

A Palestinian woman passing through Qalandia checkpoint controls

A man led the prayer who was denied passage at the other end of the “sterile zone”. I saw him turned away, roughly, at the other end of the “sterile zone” when I arrived at Qalandia. “Yellah! Yellah!”, the Israeli soldiers shouted, waving their hands and dismissing like children, or even like stray dogs, a small group of men in robes who wanted to go to pray in Jerusalem.

After the prayer, the man said he had come from Nablus, in the northern West Bank. He spoke English, and said his name was Nadir. He said he didn’t have a permit, and was just a few months younger than 50 years old, the age at which men could pass without a permit. He said he believed the Israelis wanted to cut the Palestinians’ ties to Al-Aqsa. “They say they are the ones killed”, he concluded, “but they turn the truth [around]”.

A child waits while Palestinians pray at Qalandia because they were not allowed to get to Jerusalem.

An Israeli soldier said that it was hard for him, too, to see women and children standing at the police barriers in such conditions. “I’d rather be at home”, he said wearily.

Israeli forces deployed outside of Qalandia checkpoint sterile zone

With special thanks to Tamar Fleishman of Machsom Watch — who was also pushed around by an Israeli soldier at Qalandia today — for these photos.

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