By Tamar Fleishman –The West Bank
The camps stood opposite of each other during each one of the Ramadan Fridays. From dawn to afternoon- when the prayer at Al-Aqsa was being conducted, the Palestinians stood armed with their prayer mats on their shoulders before the army of soldier armed with rifles and grenades, a ritual reminiscent of that of the Great War, wherein once the sun had set the battles would subside until being renewed at sunrise.
The laws that granted the right to cross the checkpoint and take part in the prayer at the mosque, had been devised in advance, they were harsh and had nothing to do with security. These laws, as many others that are part of the mechanism of occupation, were designed to control every aspect of the lives of millions of Palestinians.
As the weeks passed the rules remained the same, only the tone of voice changed as well as the interaction became uncivil.
The whole story is composed of fragments and pieces of stories of individuals, which indicate a crude violation of the state’s duty to the freedom of ritual of believers of all religions, as is declared in the international law and as it had pledged.
"We operate only according to orders. Nothing can be done!" an officer said.
And indeed nothing could be done.
– "No" to the blind man who tried to cross through the lane designated for disabled women. He didn’t see the sign saying: "Women’s Passage". The fact that at the same time there wasn’t a woman in sight, neither disabled nor able, didn’t bother the BP officers to prevent the man from entering and ordered him to go to the lane designated for the passage of men, which was located hundreds of meter away. Because- they operated only according to orders.
– "No" also to the young lecturer from Bir Zeit University who hoped to arrive at Al-Aqsa and pray, even though he knew that he lacked the years affixed by the rules of the day and said: "You say your country is democratic. Is this a democracy? Every human being has the right to pray at the place he holds sacred. Except us. Everyone is human, and all humans are the same".
– "No" to the disabled woman who entered from the direction of the area designated for women, tottering towards the other side of the compound, the one designated for men. There, behind the fences, between the huddles of men who had yet to turn forty, stood her son. The woman approached a soldier, then a BP man and at last an officer, she begged that her son be permitted to join her, she said that without him she would be lost…, "Does he have a permit?" They asked, "No, he doesn’t, but…", "It’s impossible!" was the verdict.
Because- as had been mentioned, they operated only in according to orders.
-"No" also to Arafat who spoke from the bottom of his heart: "Today is a holiday, something spiritual. Why do they humiliate me like this?… I’ve been standing here for two hours, ten times they have inspected me, again and again, each one of them says: ‘show me your permit…. show me your permit… show me your permit…’ I’m a man of peace. I’m a peace activist. I can’t take this humiliation anymore! "
– Or the woman crossing with her two children and while she was inside the building, sure that the road to Al-Aqsa was open before her, she was detained by a soldier who noticed that the woman had "deceived the army", for her elder son was older then the permitted age (12). The mother was caught red handed and sent away in shame with her children through the revolving gendered door, the one intended for women only.
– They were operating according to the orders alone when they closed their hearts to a family, a father, a mother and their two young children, that had left their home knowing everything was alright, that they were in compliance with the Ramadan laws. The father, who had yet to turn forty, had obtained a praying permit in advance; the mother packed all that was needed for a day out in Jerusalem, but being in a rush she forgot to place her husband’s ID in the bag. The young man tried appealing to the hearts of the soldiers and officers, he presented the paper that was issued by the authorities, he presented his wife and sons… after having pleaded, begged and requested- the family was sent back.
And indeed, as one of the officers said: "We didn’t come here to think. We came here to fulfill the orders". They fulfilled the orders and stood with their rifles drawn at human beings. At the time of the prayer at El-Aqsa a young Imam stepped on an improvised stage, he held a prayer before the crowd, after which they stood in long straight lines and replied with their own prayer, they raised their hands upward and knelt on the ground, some on prayer mats and others on a piece of carton or random pages from a newspaper.
And before the armed soldiers some young Palestinians assembled a choir, they raised their arms and together repeatedly yelled:
"In our millions we shall go to Al-Aqsa, even if we are killed we shall go…"
(Translated by Ruth Fleishman)
– As a member of Machsomwatch, once a week Tamar Fleishman heads out to document the checkpoints between Jerusalem and Ramallah. This documentation (reports, photos and videos) can be found on the organization’s site: www.machsomwatch.org. She is also a member of the Coalition of Women for Peace and volunteer in Breaking the Silence. She contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.