Nearly 70,000 Palestinians from the West Bank and 300 from Gaza take advantage of a temporary relaxation of Israeli restrictions on movement in order to attend Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Photos and text by Ahmad al-Bazz / Activestills.org
Thousands of Palestinians left their homes in cities and towns across the West Bank early Friday morning in order to make their way through a number of Israeli checkpoints leading to Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City.
The Palestinian worshipers hoping to attend prayers at Al-Aqsa for the second Friday of Ramadan were subject to strict criteria set by the Israeli military. Only men over the age of 45 years and women of all ages were allowed to enter without special permits.
Earlier in the month, in what has been described as collective punishment for a shooting attack in Tel Aviv, the army suspended 83,000 special holiday entry permits it had issued to Palestinians for Ramadan.
Buses organized to bring worshipers to Israeli checkpoints faced severe difficulty in traffic jams on many major roads in the West Bank.
Hundreds of young Palestinians hoping to cross into Jerusalem gathered at the Qalandiya and Bethlehem checkpoints, at the northern and southern ends of Jerusalem, respectively. Israeli soldiers and Border Police officers refused to let them through without permits.
Palestinian residents of the West Bank are only allowed into Jerusalem and Israel with special military issued entry permits most of the year. During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, the army eases restrictions on Fridays. Therefore, Palestinians who meet the criteria of traveling without a permit Ramadan take advantage of the exceptional situation on the four Fridays, often doing shopping and heading to the beach, which they cannot access the rest of the year.
A small number of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip also generally receive permits to attend Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa during Ramadan. Last week, Israeli officials rescinded those permits in the wake of the Tel Aviv shooting attack. This week, 300 Palestinians from Gaza were allowed into Jerusalem for prayers.