As the Muslim festival of Ramadan began on Thursday evening, communities in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza are trading customs and practices for muted observance amid regulations imposed in the wake of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Mosques in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza will be shut for the entire month, and religious leaders called on people to worship at home. According to regulations put in place for Ramadan, only close family members are allowed to gather for iftar (the evening meal ending the daily fast), as opposed to the custom of hosting wide circles of family and friends. Shops in Israel's Arab communities will be closed from 6 P.M. to 3 A.M. for the entire month, and on Thursday, many people were seen shopping in Arab cities in preparation.
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Heads of local councils in Israel supported the order to close shops at night and said they will cooperate with authorities on enforcement. Mayors of the southern city of Rahat and northern city of Umm al-Fahm participated in a cabinet meeting on the issue and requested the presence of thousands of police forces in Arab communities to help enforce social distancing.
The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Muhammad Ahmad Hussein told Radio Ashams Wednesday that there is no intention to reopen Al-Aqsa Mosque at this time. “We call on everyone to stay at home in light of data showing an increase in infection,” he said. Furthermore, religious leaders opposed Israeli regulation allowing prayer in an open space with up to 19 people and called on worshippers to pray at home.
According to the emergency committee monitoring the coronavirus crisis in Israel’s Arab community, the number of confirmed cases in Arab cities, towns and villages stood Thursday at 723, a 20 percent rise since Monday. The data doesn’t include communities with mixed Jewish-Arab populations. In East Jerusalem, health officials estimated on Wednesday there were 140 confirmed cases.