Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosqueAnd now to the last four Fridays we have spent at Qalandya checkpoint during the feast of Ramadan. It is not easy to write about.

Jerusalem is home to the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, one of the three most important shrines in Islam. Going to Al Aqsa to pray has never been easy for Palestinians under Israeli Occupation, but since the construction of the Separation Barrier, and the checkpoints encircling Jerusalem, it is harder still. Most of the year Al Aqsa is out of bounds to them but on Fridays during Ramadan, Israel issues prayer permits to enter Jerusalem. Boys under 12 and girls under 14 can pass without one, so can men over 50 and women over 45. Married men over 45 can apply for a permit; so can married women over 30. We’re talking about a small percentage of the Palestinian population: children and the not so young, those who fall outside what is considered the potential suicide bomber age group.

The IDF says the chaos and humiliation that occurs is because too many people want to cross the checkpoints. But ‘too many’ is relative.

The most we counted on any of the last four Fridays of Ramadan was 29,000. It proves how strong the Palestinians’ desire to pray at Al Aqsa still is, but it is not actually a large number when you consider that crowds three times as large are controlled at football matches every Saturday all over the world. You present your ticket at the stadium turnstile; if you have one you’re helped to get in quickly. But things run smoothly only if the idea is to facilitate entry. Checkpoints are designed to keep people out and invite hindrance, harassment, and abuse by constantly changing instructions.

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