A Month of Violence? Palestinians Challenge Israeli View of Ramadan

Some Palestinians believe Israel is responsible for escalating tensions during the holy month. Others are concerned about something more basic

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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The Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City during Ramadan.
The Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City during Ramadan.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

“Ramadan is a month of prayer and compassion, but it is Israel’s conduct as an occupying entity in Jerusalem and the West Bank has led to escalation,” said Dr. Mahmoud al-Habbash, religious affairs adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. “The presence of young Palestinians on the steps of Bab al-Amud [Damascus Gate] or in the Old City, and also in the Al-Aqsa Mosque does not constitute a threat or an invasion. On the contrary, these are young people who want to be present in their natural space,” he added.

According to Islamic law, Ramadan is a month of prayer and purification, during which Muslims fast from dawn to sunset. However, from the rioting and rockets last year, to the wave of terror attacks in the last few weeks, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar has become synonymous with security concerns in the minds of most Israelis. Palestinians in the West Bank and inside the Green Line, though, are increasingly coming out against an attempt to tarnish Ramadan with labels of violence and escalation, and many are even pointing the finger back at Israel.

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Habbash, for one, talks about the build of police and army presence in and around Al-Aqsa Mosque: "When [far-right MK Itamar] Ben-Gvir is allowed to enter Al-Aqsa on the eve of Ramadan and they announce ahead of time that extremist settlers will be allowed to enter the mosque area – this is what causes tension.”

He also mentions efforts by the Palestinian leadership, as well as King Abdullah II of Jordan, to prevent escalation. “Before they say ‘Ramadan’ let them check well into the conduct of the Israeli government. Let’s not forget that all the incidents last year began with Israeli conduct in Sheikh Jarrah," he said.

He is not the only one. Dr. Raed Badir, a prominent Islamic scholar affiliated with the United Arab List, said that "the Israeli attempt, both by politicians and the media, to dictate another narrative for Ramadan is unacceptable, and one that all Muslims vehemently reject."

"What happened last year cannot be taken as the rule. We come to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and to the Old City of Jerusalem for one purpose – to pray in the holy month and not to clash with anyone. Israel cannot limit movement and allow extremist elements who are not Muslim to enter the mosque and walk around there with a message of defiance and provocation and then ask why there is tension and escalation,” he continued.

Last year, the clashes in Jerusalem and the escalation with the Gaza Strip spilled over into mixed Arab-Jewish cities inside the Israel's 1967 borders. Arab society in Israel echoes the criticisms by Palestinians, and believes that Israel is using Ramadan as a pretext for escalation. “We have to be aware in this context too – not to let this government and extremist elements on the right dictate the Ramadan atmosphere to us,” Mohammad Barakeh, the chairman of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, said last week. “We have made our position against violence clear, but it’s Israel that holds the fuse – not the Palestinians,” he added.

To many, however, any potential escalation is less worrying than the price hikes of basic commodities by dozens of percentage points, which a political figure in Hamas in the Gaza Strip attributed to the war in Ukraine. Although the rising costs has fomented frustration in the enclave, they are not likely to produce a repeat of last year and deteriorate into clashes. The same Hamas figure, however, warns that a spark in Jerusalem, especially in Al-Aqsa, could lead to escalation in the West Bank.

“To say that I’m tense about Ramadan is a little over the top. In Israel, they’ve forgotten that we have been under occupation since 1967 and there has been and will be Ramadan every year,” a Bethlehem resident said on the condition of anonymity. “When I have to buy a kilo of chicken for 20 shekels ($6.20) instead of 11 shekels and dozens more shekels for a basket of vegetables, this worries me more,” he added.

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