Forward Thinking

Ramadan Arrives — With Unique Challenge for Israel

By Nathan Jeffay

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Ramadan has just started, and an estimated 1 million Muslims from the West Bank will enter Israel to spend part of the holiday with relations here. The defense establishment has become more confident about giving access to Israel for Arab holidays — and for the main part things have been smooth.

The opening of the checkpoints for mass travel underscores one of the interesting contrasts in the Israeli-Palestinian situation at the moment. While diplomatic channel between Jerusalem and Ramallah is sluggish and while there’s much friction and little movement on the peace process, on some day-to-day issues Israel is making significant efforts.

Of course, Jerusalem’s ability to do so reflects another fact of Israeli-Palestinian relations — political connections may be poor, but security cooperation is still strong.

Yet despite the upbeat attitude of security forces and the good level of cooperation, Ramadan this year poses a unique challenge. Not only does it fall at the height of summer (unlike Jewish festivals Ramadan isn’t fixed in a particular season).

There is also an unfortunate coincidence between Ramadan and the Fast of Av in the Jewish calendar.

Why unfortunate? Because during Ramadan Muslims converge on Temple Mount, and given that the Fast of Av is the holiday when Jews commemorate the destruction of the ancient Jerusalem Temples, a larger-than-normal contingency of Jews will head to Temple Mount.

Of course, if the observance of different religious holidays can happen in parallel and peacefully, it would be a boon to coexistence. Yet there is a real danger that the groups could clash.

The religious-Zionist right is becoming increasingly focused on the idea of asserting itself on Temple Mount, and the Fast of Av gives particularly strong expression to this desire. And Palestinians are especially sensitive at the moment to any violations of what they see as their rightful control of the Mount.

Add in the significance of the time-of-year consideration — people from both religions depriving themselves of food and water for an extremely long day in the sweltering sun and you get a potentially explosive situation.

A calm Tuesday could well point to a calm summer in Jerusalem, but if conflict is on the cards for this summer, Tuesday could well be the day that it beaks out.


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