The month of Ramadan began last Wednesday, meaning that Muslims around the world are now in the midst of their annual month of dawn-to-dusk fasting. While not all of Israel’s more than 1.6 million Muslims are religiously observant, most do continue to follow the precept of sawm, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
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Although the Ramadan fast will barely affect most Western visitors to Israel, they should be conscious of the fact that in places like Jaffa, Acre and East Jerusalem, many of the people around them are fasting, and they should to be sensitive to that fact. Smoking, drinking and eating in public are considered bad form, as are public displays of affection. A proper greeting during this month is “Ramadan Kareem,” meaning "generous Ramadan."
The ban on daytime eating means that it is not the best month for pursuing that most Israeli of culinary quests: finding the world’s best bowl of hummus. Many, though not all, popular hummus destinations are closed during daylight hours throughout Ramadan. A word to the wise in Jerusalem: Although the Muslim Quarter may be a dead option, there’s always Lina, situated in the Christian Quarter near the Via Dolorosa’s 8th station.
Modesty requirements at the Temple Mount seem to have been made more stringent of late, so it is recommended to wear shirts and pants or skirts that cover elbows and cleavage, and that extend well below the knee. Men, you are also expected to cover up. Visitors should also refrain from drinking water or smoking.
Opening hours this month are curtailed; the Temple Mount – accessible from the Moroccan Gate, adjacent to the Western Wall – is open Sunday through Thursday from 7:30 to 11 A.M., but is closed in the afternoons. And although no one knows for certain when Eid al-Fitr (the three day festival that concludes Ramadan) actually starts, it will most probably fall between August 6 and 10. The Temple Mount will be closed to non-Muslims during the festival.
In view of the much-improved security situation in the territories, Israeli authorities have been permitting increasing numbers of Palestinians to enter Israel during Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have used the entry permits to pray in Jerusalem or visit friends and family around Israel, but also to shop at the local malls and hit the beaches.