Jerusalem crossings open for Ramadan

IDF (Zahal) soldiers help thousands of Palestinians cross into Jerusalem every week

Date: 14/08/2011, 9:34 AM     Author: Tamara Ben Natan

Approximately 110,000 Palestinians entered Jerusalem last Friday (August 12) via the Qalandiya, Rachel, and Hazeitim crossings for the Ramadan tradition of praying at the Temple Mount.

Every year, the crossings into Jerusalem open during the month of Ramadan to accommodate this weekly tradition. The IDF (Zahal) Military Police’s ‘Erez’ Battalion is in charge of security, enabling thousands of Palestinians to enter every Friday morning, starting as early as 4 am.

“This month is a climax for our soldiers,” explained Maj. Gili Becker Company Commander at the Erez Battalion, stationed at the Qalandiya crossing. “We start preparing at 2 am, and by 4 we’re ready for the first big wave of worshipers. Every Friday is exhausting and complicated: we must make sure the passage is quick and efficient without jeopardizing security, while still maintaining mutual respect,” said Maj. Becker.

She added that “last Friday, 25,000 Palestinians passed through just my crossing, and the numbers continue to grow every week.”

Lt. Col. Yuval Shenkin, the Erez Battalion Commander, clarified that the weekly passage of such large numbers is made possible only with the battalion’s excellent preparation.

“This is an extremely complex process that requires special preparation,” he explained. “Our soldiers start operating very early in the morning, doing an outstanding job both in terms of security and on a personal level.” He also explained that in consideration of the fasting Palestinians, the IDF (Zahal) soldiers do not eat or drink in front of them and are extremely careful in maintaining modesty and understanding.

“This situation isn’t easy for either side, though we accommodate it as much as possible. We’ve set up shade nets against the extreme heat,” he added. “The population is also relatively old, and we respect their difficulties.”

During the second week of Ramadan last year, 73,000 people crossed into Jerusalem, in comparison with this year’s 110,000. According to Lt. Col. Shenkin the reason for this increase is the more efficient methods and the preparation of the Erez Battalion.

“The goal is to achieve a high level and quick security check. There is no doubt that this depends on the determination of the soldiers and the seriousness with which they take their job,” Lt. Col. Shenkin concluded.

The majority of the population entering includes women over the age of 45 and men over 50. Younger worshipers receive a special permit. Lt. Col. Shenkin explained that “every week more people receive the appropriate permits thus further increasing the numbers.”