Palestinians mark Ramadan amid Israeli repression

Maureen Clare Murphy

The Electronic Intifada  /  March 24, 2023

Palestinians welcomed the beginning of Ramadan this week as diplomats scrambled to avoid an escalation like that which rocked all of Palestine, from the river to the sea, in May 2021.

Israel shot and killed one of the founders of a new armed resistance group in the occupied West Bank city of Tulkarm on the first day of the fasting month.

Amir Abu Khadijeh, 25, was slain during a raid in what the Tulkarm Brigade called an “assassination.”

Israel’s Border Police said that its forces opened fire after Abu Khadijeh aimed a weapon at them, according to Al Jazeera.

Eighty-five Palestinians have been killed by Israeli police, soldiers and settlers in the West Bank since the beginning of the year, according to The Electronic Intifada’s tracking.

Around 60 were killed, many during raids, in the northern West Bank, which has borne the brunt of Israel’s efforts to break a resurgence of armed resistance over the past year.

A week before the start of Ramadan, Israeli undercover forces infiltrated the northern West Bank city of Jenin and killed four Palestinians, including a child, during a daytime raid in the bustling city center.

Speaking to the Tel Aviv daily Haaretz, an official with Jenin’s chamber of commerce said that Palestinians from inside Israel are still visiting the city despite the raids, which “only serve to raise tensions.”

Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian Authority official who lives in the northern West Bank village of Burqa, described to Haaretz lengthy travel times due to Israel’s tightened movement restrictions around Huwwara, where two settlers were shot and killed last month and the village was attacked in reprisal.

“Whether we like it or not, it depends on Israel whether we’ll have a Ramadan atmosphere,” Daghlas said. “Another raid and another death don’t in any way serve the interest of creating calm – it’s the reverse.”

On Wednesday, Tor Wennesland, the UN secretary-general’s Middle East envoy, urged “all sides to refrain from unilateral steps that escalate tensions” during the holiday period in which Ramadan, Passover and Easter overlap.

During his briefing to the Security Council, Wennesland added that “the status quo at the Holy Sites in Jerusalem must be respected.”

Islamic religious trust officials said that nearly 300 extremists entered the al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem on Thursday under Israeli police guard.

The extremists “performed Jewish rituals in violation of the status quo arrangement governing the compound,” The New Arab reported.

Tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers prayed at al-Aqsa on the first Friday of Ramadan.

According to Reuters, Israel announced earlier in the week that “it would allow Palestinian men over 55, women of all ages and children under 12 to travel from the occupied West Bank to enter Jerusalem without military-issued permits.”

Palestinian outlets posted footage of throngs of people attempting to pass through Israeli military checkpoints on their way to Jerusalem for Friday prayers:

Despite the easing of restrictions, some Palestinians were turned away when attempting to enter Jerusalem:

Palestinians in Gaza aged in their 50s and older “will be eligible to request permits to travel to Jerusalem” Sunday through Thursday should the situation remain stable, and subject to quotas, occupation authorities announced.

Israel’s foreign ministry posted a photo on social media showing worshippers with the Dome of the Rock in the background, claiming “freedom of worship” at the holy site.

But as Ir Amim, an Israeli human rights group, points out, “holy time in Jerusalem is often filled with rising tension and threats of violence” as a “direct result of Israeli policy towards worshippers.”

The group added that when police “don’t view the expression of Palestinian communal life as a dangerous gathering that must be dispersed with hostility, Ramadan passes with minimal incidences.”

Already this Ramadan, undercover police have used violence against Palestinians gathered at the Damascus Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City for celebratory fast-breaking:

The decision by Israel’s police to prevent Palestinians from gathering at Damascus Gate during Ramadan was part of a series of provocative measures in Jerusalem that led to an 11-day military offensive in Gaza and a unity uprising against Israeli rule across historic Palestine.

Haaretz reported on Friday that “more than 2,300 police officers will secure the Old City and its surroundings during noon prayers.”

The paper added that the Israeli-run municipality of Jerusalem “has also invested funds in the production of cultural and sports events for Palestinian worshipers” in order to “prevent a large gathering of youths at Damascus Gate.”

According to Haaretz, “internal city documents suggest the city is trying to hide the fact that the booths and activities are funded by the municipality to avoid the risk of being shunned by the Palestinian public.”

Meanwhile, Israeli prison authorities reportedly reached a deal to avoid a mass hunger strike among Palestinian prisoners during Ramadan.

The head of the Palestinian Prisoners Club told media that prisoners demanded that “any change in the conditions of their imprisonment be discussed in the cabinet and not decided by the personal whims” of Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s national security minister.

In February, Ben-Gvir directed the Israeli Prison Service to limit “showers to four minutes per individual or one hour of running water per prison wing,” human rights groups stated earlier this month.

“This restriction follows the ban on ovens in Nafha and Ketziot prisons, resulting in a noticeable decrease in the amount of bread provided” to Palestinian prisoners, the groups added.

The rights groups noted an “increase in the brutality and violence” against Palestinian prisoners.

The agreement to suspend a mass hunger strike came after leadership in Ramallah and Gaza “exerted pressure through Egyptian mediators meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh … to avoid an escalation of tensions during Ramadan,” Haaretz reported.

Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials met in the Egyptian city on Sunday in an American-pushed effort to get through the holiday period without an escalation of violence.

Israel has already reneged on its commitments made at Sharm el-Sheikh by publishing tenders for more than a 1,000 new settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

But Israel has been returning the bodies Palestinians slain by its forces in what appear to be “confidence-building measures” encouraged by Washington.

Israel withholds the bodies of Palestinians killed during attacks and alleged and attempted attacks so that they may be used as bargaining chips in future negotiations.

Israel transferred the bodies of Tariq Maali and Karam Salman on Friday.

According to the UN monitoring group OCHA, Maali was “shot and killed by an Israeli settler in a newly established outpost” near Ramallah “in an attempted stabbing attack as shown in video footage that was published on Israeli media.”

Salman, reportedly armed with a handgun, was “shot dead by a security guard near the northern West Bank settlement of Kedumim,” The Times of Israel reported on 29 January.

Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada