By Joharah Baker – West Bank
Every year I wonder why the Palestinians don’t include Jewish holidays on their national calendar. At least those Palestinians in the West Bank and east Jerusalem should be afforded a few days off whenever the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine are on vacation.
This may sound strange, of course, coming from a Palestinian Muslim who would like nothing better than to be completely independent of anything Israeli. However, my argument is based on practical premises and not religious or ideological ones.
Take for example the most recent Jewish holiday, which was Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish New Year. For three full days, the Israeli army closed off all checkpoints into Israel to Palestinians, including those around Jerusalem. This means that even Palestinians with permits to enter Israel were not allowed entry during this period. Permits, let me clarify, are issued by the Israeli security establishment itself. For further clarification, these permits are only issued to select Palestinians after a scrutinizing vetting process to ensure that none of these individuals are even a slight security threat to the mighty state of Israel. So, if we are to follow this logic, then the Palestinians who have permits to enter Israel would be no more threatening during New Years than they would be at any other time. Hence, the only other explanation is that Israel simply prefers to have the country as purely Jewish as possible during their holidays, keeping out any pesky Palestinians.
This year, Rosh Hashanah fell on September 30 – October 1, the same days as the Eid Al Fitr, the Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan. For one month, Muslims everywhere, Palestine included, abstain from food and water from sunrise to sunset. When the month is done, Muslims celebrate the occasion with lots of family visits and of course, lots of food.
This year, the Israeli imposed closure put a huge damper on Muslim festivities. As we all know, Palestinians in the West Bank are intrinsically connected to those in Jerusalem and even inside the Green Line. Almost every Jerusalem resident has some family member living on the other side of the "border", that is, in the West Bank. Traveling to and from these areas is relatively easy for those with the coveted blue ID card indicating that the bearer is a Jerusalem resident. They can move from Jerusalem to Ramallah or areas inside Israel without the hassle of special permits. However, those with green-covered West Bank IDs are banned completely from entering Jerusalem or Israel except if they are granted a permit, which, by the way, usually only allows the bearer access to Jerusalem or Israel for certain hours a day and only for the "specified purpose." On the back of most permits, there are eight points upon which validity of the permit is contingent. If the bearer breaks any of these "rules" they are prone to arrest, fines and harassment and can, no doubt, kiss any hope of being granted permits in the future, goodbye.
Hence, on the Eid Al Fitr, people who had planned to spend their holiday with family in Jerusalem had to cancel their plans and stay at home instead. It seems absurd that the Muslim holiday should be disrupted because of a Jewish holiday, but in this upside down world called Palestine, nothing can be considered absurd.
To make matters worse, Israel announced that the "closure" [as if to imply that the territories were open at all other times], would be lifted on Wednesday night, that is, the night of October 1. Even after 40-something years of occupation, we Palestinians have yet to learn that we cannot trust the Israelis. That night, which marked the second day of the Eid Al Fitr [which is customarily three days], cars were backed up to kingdom-come at the Qalandiya checkpoint, reaching almost half a kilometer back to the Qalandiya Refugee Camp. Palestinians, who were earlier disappointed at not being able to visit Jerusalem, thought they would try their luck that night when Israel said the closure would be lifted.
If it were not for personal experience, I would have said the Palestinians were exaggerating. For half an hour, our car did not move 20 meters, the ominous Qalandiya crossing not even in sight. Finally, we turned back, giving up any hope of making it that night into Jerusalem. A friend tried even harder, pushing his way for two hours to the nonchalant Israeli soldiers manning the barrier, only to be turned back and told to come again tomorrow.
That is why I say, the Palestinians should decide to celebrate the Jewish holidays each year so the rest of their lives are not disrupted because of them, barring of course this Eid Al Fitr, which was just an unfortunate coincidence. Now that Rosh Hashanah is over, we Palestinians have yet another Jewish holiday to look forward to. In a few days, on October 9, Jews everywhere will observe Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. Traditionally, this is a day when Jews fast, meditate and repent for their past sins. Sounds like a good idea, especially for those Israeli Jews who wear the hat of occupier or settler and have plenty to repent for.
Unfortunately, the day comes with, of course, a complete closure of the West Bank. As if this were not enough, Yom Kippur comes with yet another perk. Because the day is supposed to be dedicated to repentance and meditation, all roads are closed to traffic. In Jerusalem, where there is a large Jewish Orthodox community, this is no laughing matter. If a car is seen on the main streets, Jews will pelt it with stones, regardless of whether it is driven by a Jew or not.
This means work and schools in east Jerusalem come to a standstill on Yom Kippur. Children may rejoice at another day off, but schedules are thrown off, tests postponed and the overall educational process disrupted one more time, not because of a scheduled Muslim or Christian holiday, but one that none of the students in east Jerusalem celebrate.
This also includes those Jerusalemites who work in Ramallah as well. While the West Bank does not take off time for Yom Kippur, their Jerusalemite employees cannot reach their workplaces. Alas, offices in the West Bank will feel the crunch too.
Hence, it seems only logical that we Palestinians should, from now on, pencil in Jewish holidays on our calendars. This way, when we are banned from travel or have to keep our kids at home, we can say, "Well, of course we are off – its, Hanukkah."
-Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at email@example.com. (Originally published in MIFTAH.org; republished in PalestineChronicle.com with permission.)