Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar during which Muslims all over the world abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. It is a month of prayer, introspection, charity and renewing of interpersonal ties.
Jerusalem is the home of one of Islam’s most holiest sites, the al-Aqsa mosque, and is thus a center of pilgrimage for Muslims. The majority of Palestinians however are prevented from visiting their capital due to Israel’s racist pass system, which restricts Palestinians’ freedom of movement and confines them into ghettos. Palestinian Jerusalemites have become increasingly isolated as a result and their numbers have dwindled. Israeli policies of Judaization and ethnic cleansing have placed pressure on Palestinians to leave the city, accompanied by attempts to criminalize Palestinian national and cultural expressions.
Ramadan therefore comes as a breath of fresh air. As the month begins, the Old City of Jerusalem transforms and becomes almost unrecognizable. Street lights beautify the city, with neighborhoods competing with each other on who has the best lights. Children walk around holding the fanous, the traditional Ramadan lantern, and launch fireworks in celebration of the month. New commerce spurs up; street vendors sell all kinds of delicious food and drinks, which have become tradition during Ramadan.
Damascus Gate is the center of the festivities, especially during the evening until the early hours of the morning. During the weekends street performers animate the crowds. The Israeli occupation allows for a restricted number of permits for Palestinians from the West Bank to visit Jerusalem during Ramadan, a much needed economic relief for Palestinian businesses. (Jerusalem remains inaccessible to Palestinians in Gaza.) Palestinians from ‘48 [present-day Israel] also flood the city in great numbers. Ramadan allows us to imagine the Jerusalem that once was, before Israel came to colonize it, and to dream of a Jerusalem that one day will be.