Monday, September 25, 2017

Crossing the Kalandia checkpoint to pray at Al-Aqsa on the last Friday of Ramadan


By Ayesha Khan - June 30, 2017
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [al-Aqsa] [Ramadan] [Qalandia Refugee Camp] [Qalandiya checkpoint] [checkpoints]

Last Friday of Ramadan at Al-Aqsa brought in about 80,000 worshipers, but for the Palestinian-Muslims crossing over from the Kalandia checkpoint, it was a hassle navigating to the holy site due to heavy traffic and heightened presence of Israeli forces throughout Jerusalem’s Old City.
 
Nabil Tahir, 62, from the northern city of Nablus in the West Bank, told Palestine Monitor, “it is my right to be able to come to Al-Aqsa, but I only get a chance during Ramadan, so I makes sure to come every Friday no matter how hard they [Israel] make it for us.”
 
The journey to the mosque took Tahir over two hours, which is a shared reality for many of those who crossed over the Kalandia checkpoint on Friday morning. Crossing the border on foot in the scorching heat, only to be greeted by long lines for the buses headed to Jerusalem, coupled with the constant reminder that any altercation between Israeli forces or the Jewish settlers could mean denial to entry at the mosque are depictions of the restrictions put on religious freedom under the Israeli occupation.
 
With crowds of Palestinian-Muslims rushing to make it to the scheduled prayer at noon, it is a scene bearing both uncertainty and tension due to the volatile nature of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
 
According to Basel Lafi, 28, who was in attendance at the Friday prayers, ”Israeli soldiers have denied me entry to Al-Aqsa several times before. They would ask me to show them my ID before entering, and they would decide whether to let me in or deny me on random basis.” He continued, “sometimes they would hold on to my ID to make sure I would leave the mosque right after the prayer.”
 
After an attack that resulted in the death of three Palestinians and an Israeli policewoman by Damascus Gate on June 17th, Palestinian media reported that most of –if not all- permits given for the month of Ramadan to Palestinians in the West Bank were revoked, although women of all ages, men above 40, and children under 12 were still allowed to cross over to Israeli territory.
 
This has been a contributing reason to the increased deployment of Israeli forces in the Old City, which can be spotted at every corner, making sure to block entrances to the mosque for non-Muslims and subjecting Palestinians to body searches over any suspicious activity.
 
After the afternoon prayer, the children gather to play in the Al-Aqsa compound as families and friends greet each other with warm embraces and share their plans for the upcoming Eid festivities. Vendors in the Muslim quarter return to their routine, while tourists maneuver their way through the maze that is the Old City. 
 
Luba al-Samri, Israeli police spokesperson, said the Friday prayers ended “with peace and safety,” although the same could not be concluded regarding this past week, during which Israeli forces used rubber bullets and tear-gas against worshipers, when they protested against the presence of Israeli settlers in the compound.
 
After the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel has maintained control of Al-Aqsa in cooperation with the Islamic trust that is in charge of the mosque. Non-Muslims are not allowed to pray at the compound, and are restricted from entry during the last 10 days of Ramadan.
 
Despite the risks, “spending Ramadan and Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa is us claiming our right to pray and live [in Jerusalem]. This our connection to Islam, it is our identity,” said Lafi. 

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