Every year during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, Israeli authorities approve a package to “relax” the restrictions on movement for West Bank Palestinians. This standard military practice aims, as authorities say, to facilitate Palestinian worshippers’ trips to Jerusalem for the weekly prayer that takes place every Friday.
This year, Israeli authorities announced that Palestinian men over 40 years old, boys under 16, and women of all ages could cross to Jerusalem from three West Bank checkpoints without military permits on the four Fridays of the month. However, married men between 30 and 40 became eligible to apply for military permits, which are valid every day during the month except for Friday and Saturday.
As a result, tens of thousands of Palestinians headed to Qalandiya checkpoint, Bethlehem 300 checkpoint, and Zaytoun checkpoint early on Friday mornings to take advantage of the unusual regulations. On normal days, men over 50-years-old and women over 45 are the only segment allowed to cross the wall to Jerusalem and travel across the Green Line without military permits while all other ages are denied.
“This is a rare chance. I try to come every Friday during this month to do what I can’t do on normal days”, Marwa Hamed, 33, said while crossing the Qalandiya checkpoint that separates between Ramallah and Jerusalem. She added: “The crossing procedure is not very difficult for women since all ages are allowed and soldiers do not need to check all of us”.
On the men’s side, the situation was a bit different. Traffic was worse and tensions were high between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians, especially among those who were denied as they attempted to cross.
“I’m 48-year-old and I was denied access”, Alaa Shaheen, 48, told Mondoweiss. He indicated that he was imprisoned by Israeli authorities in 2005 and that’s why he is blacklisted. Shaheen managed to cross on the first two Fridays of Ramadan when soldiers didn’t check IDs on computer. “It depends on the mood of the officer that day, I believe. This is just a pretext to prevent us from crossing. They know that all Palestinians are ex-prisoners”, Shaheen said.
Abdul-Rahman Salameh 45, had a similar experience. “All Palestinian people are blacklisted. Do they call this relaxation? Look at the lines!” he said. While for Rafat Bani-Monaya, 48, being blacklisted simply means “being active against the occupation.”
Men under 30-year-old shared their frustration for being denied. Some indicated that they have never been to Jerusalem in their life.
In many spots along the Israeli wall that separates Jerusalem from other West Bank cities, Palestinians used ladders, ropes, and other tools to cross. On the last Friday of Ramadan, a 16-year old boy was killed by Israeli forces while trying to avoid an Israeli checkpoint near Bethlehem, according to Palestinian media sources.
The wall that runs between Palestinian neighborhoods and towns and cuts Jerusalem off from the rest of the West Bank is considered “illegal” according to an advisory opinion issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004.
While West Bank Palestinians are forced to travel through several Palestinian-only checkpoints to cross the Israeli wall under certain laws and regulations, Israeli citizens can travel freely with their vehicles across the wall from other checkpoints with no restrictions.
From an Israeli point of view, the wall and these movement restrictions were created after a massive wave of Palestinian attacks that took place in Israeli cities and towns beyond the Green Line. For Palestinians, such attacks represent a “resistance against Israeli occupation and colonial policies.”
On the last Friday of Ramadan, a Palestinian man stabbed and injured two Israelis in Jerusalem’s old town. The Palestinian attacker was killed on spot by Israeli forces.
In a few days, the month of Ramadan will be over and West Bank Palestinians will go back to life under the old military rules of movement that do not apply to Israeli citizens.