Ramadan in the Holy Land

Well — I can tell you one thing, it will be hot. Hot and long.

The long summer days aside, the cities and villages of Palestine are busy preparing for the daytime fasting of Ramadan. Dates — in far greater quantity than usual — now line the alleyways of markets, ensuring that the faithful will have access to a steady supply of their preferred fast-breaking food. Similarly, the regions’ juice makers are in full swing preparing date derived drinks as well as other fruit juices rich in vitamins, making them the perfect accompaniment to iftar meals.

Moon and star shaped Ramadan lights are being sold on every major street corner, and the principal cities of the West Bank are slowly but surely putting up their yearly decoration displays. Merchants and restaurant owners are preparing for their rush season as they await an influx of families looking for the perfect new clothes for end of the month festivities or a night off from cooking and extended family visits.

On the spiritual side of events, local mosques are busy planning for their most active period of the year as well. Community fast-breaking at maghrib must be planned and the less fortunate looked after, including the coordination of zakat collection and distribution. Not only is Ramadan the moment when mosques are most likely to be well attended in the evenings for taraweeh prayers, but also the time of year when weary workers seek out a place for a midday nap, so the attention to upkeep is also at its yearly apex.

The threat of military rule amidst the joy of preparations

Despite the overwhelming joy of Palestinian preparations for Ramadan, the period is always a complicated one for Palestinian Muslims. The Holy month is a month of increased movement into, out of, and within the entire area of historical Palestine (the West Bank, Gaza, and present-day Israel), meaning it is a month of increased friction at checkpoints, boarder crossings, and other areas of contact between Palestinians and the Israeli military.

Thus, as young children start early window-shopping for Eid outfits and overworked parents plan their meals and methods of distracting their children during those long Ramadan days, they are also wondering about how smoothly things will go this year. Historically, Ramadan is a time of elevated tension — not least of all because it is the peak season for visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Even those West Bank residents — forget about those living in Gaza whose access to the site is virtually non-existent — who have secured a permit to cross into Jerusalem will face hours at checkpoints, and of course the increase in traffic will mean longer waits for buses as well.

Ramadan is meant to be a season of mutual solidarity, personal growth, and deep spiritual reflection. Yet, the challenges of this process are often made fundamentally more difficult here in Palestine. While Palestinians have generally become masters of carrying on and celebrating life’s milestones despite such adverse conditions, Ramadan is definitely a time when travel objectives hold greater importance and seeing them frustrated can be particularly devastating. Furthermore, the bored Israeli soldiers staffing most checkpoints often see Ramadan as the ‘perfect’ time to cause the greatest frustration to Palestinians, including arbitrary detainment and harassment. This is especially true at flash points like Qalandia Checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem, as well as the checkpoints surrounding and within the particularly hard-hit city of Hebron.

While we make our own preparations for Ramadan, let us all hope and pray it is a Ramadan kareem here in Palestine and across the globe, keeping in mind the privilege associated with celebrating the Holy Month in more stable locales.