September 24, 2023

QALANDIYA CHECKPOINT, West Financial institution (AP) — For a lot of Palestinians, the journey to one in every of Islam’s most sacred websites on the holiest night time of Ramadan begins in a dust-choked, garbage-strewn maelstrom.

Tens of hundreds of Palestinian worshippers from throughout the occupied West Financial institution on Monday crammed by way of a navy checkpoint resulting in Jerusalem to hope on the Al-Aqsa Mosque for Laylat al-Qadr, or the “Evening of Future,” when Muslims imagine that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad centuries in the past.

The noisy, sweaty crowds at Qalandiya checkpoint appear chaotic — however there was a system: ladies to the appropriate; males to the left. Jerusalem residents right here, disabled individuals there. And the grim-looking males stranded on the nook had endured the lengthy wait solely to be turned again altogether.

“I’m not political, I’m simply religious, so I assumed perhaps tonight, due to Laylat al-Qadr, they’d let me in,” mentioned Deia Jamil, a 40-year-old Arabic instructor from the West Financial institution metropolis of Ramallah.

“However no. ‘Forbidden,’” he mentioned, sinking onto his knees to hope within the filth lot.

For Palestinian worshippers, praying on the third-holiest website in Islam is a centerpiece of Ramadan. However lots of of hundreds are barred from legally crossing into Jerusalem, with most males underneath 55 turned away at checkpoints resulting from Israeli safety restrictions. They usually resort to perilous means to get to the holy compound in the course of the fasting month of Ramadan.

This yr, as up to now, Israel has eased some restrictions, permitting ladies and younger kids from the West Financial institution to enter Jerusalem with out a allow. These between the ages of 45 and 55 who’ve a legitimate allow can pray on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound — one of the vital bitterly disputed holy websites on Earth.

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Jews revere it because the Temple Mount, house to the biblical Temples, and contemplate it the holiest website in Judaism. The competing claims are on the coronary heart of the Israeli-Palestinian battle and infrequently spill over into violence.

Israel says it’s dedicated to defending freedom of worship for all faiths and describes the controls on Palestinian worshippers as a necessary safety measure that retains attackers out of Israel. Final month, a Palestinian who crossed into Israel from the West Financial institution village of Nilin opened fireplace on a crowded road in Tel Aviv, killing one Israeli and wounding two others.

However for Palestinians, the restrictions take a toll.

“I really feel utterly misplaced,” mentioned 53-year-old Noureddine Odeh, his backpack sagging off one shoulder. His spouse and teenage daughters made it by way of the checkpoint, leaving him behind. This yr — a interval of surging violence within the occupied West Financial institution — Israel raised the age restrict for male worshippers and he was not eligible. “You’re tugged round, like they’re enjoying God.”

Israeli authorities didn’t reply questions on what number of Palestinian purposes they’d rejected from the West Financial institution and Gaza. However they mentioned that to this point this month, some 289,000 Palestinians — the bulk from the West Financial institution and some hundred from the Gaza Strip — had visited Jerusalem for prayers.

Earlier this month, Israel introduced the beginning of particular Ramadan flights for West Financial institution Palestinians from the Ramon Airport in southern Israel. In regular instances, Palestinians must fly from neighboring Jordan. However Monday, days earlier than the tip of Ramadan, the Israeli protection company that handles Palestinian civilian affairs mentioned solely that Palestinians “will quickly have the choice.”

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The crowds squeezing by way of Qalandiya throughout Laylat al-Qadr — one of the vital necessary nights of the yr, when Muslims search to have their prayers answered — had been so overwhelming that Israeli forces repeatedly shut the barrier. The sudden closures created bottlenecks of individuals, most of whom had abstained from meals and water all day. Medics from the Palestinian Purple Crescent mentioned at the least 30 individuals collapse on the checkpoint on a busy Ramadan day.

Their elbows pressed into strangers’ torsos and heads squeezed underneath armpits, 5 ladies finding out to be midwives who had by no means earlier than left the West Financial institution entertained themselves with fantasies of Jerusalem. “We’ll purchase meat and sweets,” squealed 20-year-old Sondos Warasna. “And picnic within the Al-Aqsa courtyard.”

The limestone courtyard, which teems with Palestinian households breaking quick every night time after sundown, turned roiled by violence earlier this month, when Ramadan overlapped with the Jewish vacation of Passover. Israeli police raided the compound, firing stun grenades and arresting lots of of Palestinian worshippers who had barricaded themselves contained in the mosque with fireworks and stones. The raid, which Israel mentioned was vital to stop additional violence, outraged Muslims the world over and prompted militants in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip to fireplace rockets at Israel.

Anger over entry to the contested compound was undimmed at Qalandiya. Throngs of Palestinian women and older males ostensibly permitted to move had been turned again and informed they’d safety bans they by no means knew about that barred them from Jerusalem. The secretive system — which Palestinians contemplate a key device in Israel’s 55-year-old navy occupation — left them reeling, struggling to grasp why.

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A 16-year-old lady from the northern metropolis of Jenin frantically referred to as her dad and mom who had entered Jerusalem with out her. A 19-year-old from Ramallah modified her coat and placed on sun shades and lipstick earlier than attempting once more.

Others discovered riskier methods to get to the holy compound — scrambling over Israel’s hulking separation barrier or sliding underneath razor wire.

Abdallah, a younger medical pupil from the southern metropolis of Hebron, clambered up a rickety ladder with six of his associates within the pre-dawn darkness Monday — then slid down a rope on the wall’s different facet — so he may make it to Al-Aqsa for Laylat al-Qadr. They paid a smuggler some $70 every to assist them scale the barrier.

“My coronary heart was beating so loud. I used to be positive troopers would hear it,” Abdallah mentioned, giving solely his first title for worry of reprisals.

The Israeli navy has picked up lots of of Palestinians who sneaked by way of holes within the separation barrier throughout Ramadan, it mentioned, including that forces would “proceed to behave in opposition to the safety threat arising from the destruction of the safety fence and unlawful entry.”

Abdallah mentioned the expertise of Jerusalem’s Previous Metropolis introduced him nice pleasure. However quickly nervousness set in. Israeli police had been in every single place — often stopping younger males and asking to see their IDs. He tried to mix in, carrying counterfeit athleisure like many Jerusalemites and smiling to look relaxed.

“It’s a blended feeling. At any second I do know I may very well be arrested,” he mentioned from the doorway to the sacred compound. “However our mosque, it makes me be at liberty.”