Palestinians crossing through the womens’ checkpoint at Qalandia to reach Jerusaelm, 19 July 2013. (Photo: Allison Deger)
To arrive on time it’s best not to sleep at all. Every Friday during Ramadan, Israel allows Palestinian children, elderly and women to cross Qalandia, the barrier between the West Bank and Jerusalem. The place is full of motion. People shuffling in one direction, past the mini checkpoints erected about 200 meters from the main metal bar, barbed wire, two turn-stop checkpoint.
With the influx of travelers, leaving the West Bank can eat the morning away. So the crowds start arriving, by foot from the hills of nearby Qalandia refugee camp, by bus, by car and by taxi as early as 4 am. By sunrise the stream of foot passengers (the checkpoint is closed to cars on Fridays for Ramadan) is steady, holding strong throughout the rest of the day.
Once past the ID checks, Palestinians hop in vehicles and are carted to the Damascus Gate where they blend into the streets. Then hoof it to the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Soaker hoses, like the kind used for gardens, strung from rooftops mist water on everything from the waste up. Foreheads are cooled.
For many Ramadan is their only time visiting Jerusalem. The faces of elation on some children seem to scream, “I’m here! I’m here!” From Hebron to Jerusalem, from Nablus to Jerusalem—the ordinarily unimaginable jaunt across the separation wall happens. A group of girls sit in a park joking with one and another. They didn’t come to Jerusalem to pray, they came to play hooky from the occupation.
Yet the trip is not without watchful eyes. Israeli border police survey the Old City, and regularly stop the returning buses to the West Bank, detaining those whose paper work is deemed unacceptable. Detained, detained, always a possibility.