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Middle East

Palestinian Muslims attempt once-a-year trip to Jerusalem

media Palestinian men pray in front of the Dome of the Rock on the compound known … Reuters/Ammar Awad

On the second Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, thousands of worshippers from the West Bank attempt to cross the Qalandia checkpoint from the West Bank into Jerusalem to pray at the Al-Aqsa mosque, considered one of the three holiest sites in Islam.

Ramadan is a once-a-year opportunity for many Palestinians, as most West Bank residents do not have permits that normally allow them to cross into Jerusalem, which the Palestinians consider their capital.

Dossier: Gaza 2009

Thousands queued in order to pass the Qalandia checkpoint in time for midday prayers. 

“We left Nablus at 4.00 am," 17-year-old Rua Abutaha explained. "And we’ve been waiting here since almost six o’clock, ten to six, something like that. My parents told me that before the wall and all this…messed-up stuff, they told me it only took one hour from Nablus to Jerusalem.”

A slight relaxation of the normal restrictions by Israel meant that men over 40 and women of all ages could cross into Jerusalem for Friday prayers.

Click to enlarge the map
Anthony Terrade/RFI

Yet teh choice of who would cross often remained at the discretion of the Israeli Defence Force soldiers manning the checkpoint. The Abutaha sisters were initially refused entry.

“I was talking to an Israeli soldier and I told him 'but that is unfair, I read it in the newspaper and I saw it on TV on national television', and he told me the newspapers were lying and it wasn’t true. Then he took my papers, and I said 'Where are you going with my papers?' and he said 'I’m going to take you to go', then he started talking in Hebrew and I didn’t understand him. So I followed him, and he wasn’t going to give me my papers. I told him 'Just give me my papers, I want to go home!' ”

A short time later, the decision was reversed.

“Well I don’t know what changed, but they’re letting us in and I’m ecstatic, I’m really, really happy!”

The separation wall was constructed by Israel in 2002, with the aim of heavily restricting entry from the West Bank.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem says that, while Israel has a right to protect its citizens from attack, the separation wall is the most extreme solution that causes the greatest harm.

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