check mate

Welcome to Jerusalem’s much-hated Kalandia checkpoint, which all Palestinians entering from the West Bank capital Ramallah are obliged to go through. Only the rare few with a special permit have the right to get into the ancient city, and into Israel, while many others are trapped on the other side.

Apart from the obvious indignity of being denied entry to what is historically a key Arab city, the Palestinians have another reason for complaint. More than 95 per cent of them are Muslim and Jerusalem is home to the world’s third most important Islamic site, after Mecca and Medina.

The Dome of the Rock is where the Prophet Mohammed is believed to have ascended to heaven and is sacred at all times of the year. But during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month which ends next week, it traditionally receives more pilgrims than usual.
Except that the Israelis won’t let those Palestinians without the necessary documents cross to pray there, for “security reasons” (their explanation for everything here).

Always a bone of contention, this turns ugly during Ramandan, especially on Fridays, the Muslim holy day. At Kalandia and other checkpoints to the south and east of Jerusalem – the sides ‘protected’ by its ugly security wall – spontaneous demonstrations break out and can end with rubber bullets from the army.

I was passing Kalandia on Friday morning on my way to Ramallah when just such a stand-off was taking place. The women wanted to cross to Jerusalem to pray but were being denied entry, so they got their mats out and prayed with an imam next to the wall. I didn’t get to stay for long so don’t know how it ended. I may return to Kalandia this Friday and stay for longer.

For some amazing photos of Ramadan around the world – including some great pictures of Palestine – check this out.