Ramadan in Jerusalem

The months of Ramadan kicked off and from Ramallah I made the trip to Jerusalem to see how the city has changed. Published on EI. To see the complete photostory, click here.

The traditional Ramadan lantern, seen here in Jerusalem, is believed to have originated in Egypt during the Fatimid period. The legend goes that the people of Egypt held lanterns to light the dark streets and greet the Caliph al-Muizz upon his arrival to Cairo during Ramadan.

Muslims around the world began the month of Ramadan — a period of prayer, charity and communion — in early June.

For Muslims in the northern hemisphere, the holy month overlaps with the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. Those who observe Ramadan abstain from consuming food and drink during the daylight hours.

In Palestine, the fast begins with fajr prayer, just before 4am, and ends with the maghrib prayer at approximately 7:45pm.

It is customary for worshipers to attend Friday prayers at East Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam. But Israeli restrictions make it impossible for most Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to pray there.

In an act of collective punishment following a deadly shooting attack in Tel Aviv on 8 June, Israel suspended more than 83,000 permits issued for the occasion of Ramadan, the majority for family visits in Israel, according to the United Nations monitoring group OCHA.

On the first Friday of Ramadan, 10 June, Israel limited entrance to Jerusalem to 30,000 Palestinians holding West Bank IDs.

Ramadan sees the city transformed by light displays, street vendors and fireworks — if only temporarily. Israeli restrictions, however, have left the Palestinian community in East Jerusalem increasingly isolated and prevented tens of thousands of Palestinians from enjoying the evening’s events.

Um Samer and her daughters have successfully crossed Qalandiya, an Israeli military checkpoint where soldiers prevent free movement between Ramallah and Jerusalem. They have traveled from Nablus, in the northern West Bank, to pray at al-Aqsa. “Ramadan is the time when the first verses of the Quran were revealed to the Prophet [Muhammad], peace be upon him. It’s a very special time, my favorite time. Making this journey to al-Aqsa for us is central to our experience; it’s a way to be closer to God,” Um Samer said.

Raed Hamdan, leader of the Qalandiya camp scouts, helps worshipers negotiate the checkpoint, offering assistance to the elderly and people with disabilities. “Ramadan makes us a little bit closer to God, makes us forget our troubles and concentrate on God. Also it makes us closer to the poor. When we fast we feel with them when they don’t have enough to eat. … My mother is Christian, my father is Muslim, we were brought up Muslim but there is no difference here, no problem, it’s normal in Palestine.”

Worshipers make their way past Israeli forces, deployed in large numbers, in the Old City of Jerusalem.

A street vendor in the Old City sells falafel mahshi, a Ramadan specialty made with ground chickpeas and stuffed with onions, sumac and other spices, then fried and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

A worker takes a nap on a shop’s display while Israeli forces patrol the streets in Jerusalem’s Old City.

The streets of East Jerusalem are quiet and empty as families break the fast.

In previous years the Damascus Gate to the Old City has been the heart of East Jerusalem’s nightlife during Ramadan, filled with street vendors selling pancakes, grilled meat sandwiches and sweets. This year the Israeli-controlled municipality did not grant permits to vendors allowing them to sell their wares at Damascus Gate, the site of several attacks and alleged attacks in recent months, as well as protests, and now the steps stand empty.