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Mili Mass, Ina Friedman, Avital Toch (reporting)

First Friday of Ramadan

The Old City

A steady stream of worshipers flowing toward the Haram a-Sharif

The Jaffa Gate: A lone. elderly man dressed in white at 10 a.m. makes his way from Hebron Road to the Jaffa Gate. Everything here seems as usual. The presence of soldiers is not prominent, and only pairs of policemen guard the traffic of people into the Old City. 

There is no vehicular traffic on Sultan Suleiman Street, which runs parallel to the northern Old City wall, and iron police barriers are scattered along the sidewalk. Here too there is no sign of soldiers or weapons. The way is open through the Damascus Gate, with no checkpoints along the road as in earlier years, and all the police and guards are concentrated in one corner above the gate itself. A river of men, women and children descends gingerly down the steps, through the gate, and  onto El Wad (Hagai) Street, the main artery from the Damascus Gate to the mosques on Haram e-Sharif (the Temple Mount).

One has the feeling that contrary to earlier years, when the alleyways of the Old City were awash in white, few people are in festive dress today, and these are only the elderly and young girls.

On El Wad Street, despite the armed police presence at every corner, there is no of any intention to harass the worshipers. At the end of the street, the last before the entry to the Haram, when we reach a police position and ask which route we are allowed to take, the policemen become gruff and it feels as though they are taking out on us all the tension that has built up in them till now. But in a minute or so, their commander arrives and the atmosphere changes completely. He explains to us the strategic policy on the Fridays of Ramadan – which we already know from years of observation – to maintain as much as possible a swift and quiet entry of worshipers and not to flaunt the police presence along the way. Yet as this officer (who likely lives in the northern part of Israel) had never seen us before or even heard of MachsomWatch, our talk proved a golden opportunity for briefhasbara session. We parted with mutual greetings of Hag Sameach and Ramadan Karim.

Continuing on to the Street of the Chain, a quiet alley that leads to the northern entrance to the mosques for those coming from the Jaffa Gate, we take up position on shaded steps near a to follow the flow of worshipers, which seems to be less voluminous than in earlier years. The police nearby were occupied exclusively with weeding out innocent tourists who were unaware of where they were headed (or perhaps were aware but are not allowed to be in the Haram during prayers).

Near us a girl of about seven stopped before the police position as her mother whipped out a black dress and red headscarf from her bag, quickly dressed her over her jeans and t-shirt, lifted her on to her shoulders and rejoined the flow of worshipers, as the happy child waved us goodbye.