With one religion’s holiday season about to start in Israel in a few weeks, another’s ended last week.
Aug. 8 was Eid al-Fitr, the end of the Islamic dawn-to-dusk fasting month of Ramadan.
During the month, Muslims from the West Bank, and Israeli Arabs from within the country, flooded to Jerusalem, observing their holy days at the Al-Aqsa Mosque — one of Islam’s holiest sites — atop the Temple Mount in the Old City. So many came, according to reports in Israeli newspapers, that West Bank merchants were complaining that they were losing business to stores in Israel, and Jewish Israelis complained of being denied access to the Temple Mount area.
A group of activists from Ramallah and Jerusalem this year encouraged Muslim pilgrims to buy only from Arab-owned stores.
Israel annually eases travel restrictions from the West Bank during Ramadan.
More than 2.5 million worshippers prayed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan this year, the Al-Aqsa Foundation reported. An Israeli Police spokeswoman told AFP that the prayers passed “without incident.”
For some West Bank visitors, Ramadan marked their first time in Israel. “The moment I entered Israel I was surprised,” a 27-year-old day laborer from the West Bank told the Times of Israel. “I felt like I was in Europe. There’s a total difference between the West Bank and Israel.”
Like Yom Kippur, which leads into the festive celebrations of Sukkot, Ramadan brings a celebratory spirit on Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast, whose date is determined by a sighting of the new moon.
Free of the Ramadan restrictions, Muslims from Israel and the West Bank head toward the beaches of Tel Aviv, visit relatives, go to Israeli amusement parks and other tourist attractions and take part in processions and cultural programs in several communities.
A haredi Jew, above, passes by an Arab street vendor selling balloons at the top of the stairs leading down to the Damascus Gate, a prominent entrance into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
Within a few days, the crowds disappeared from the Old City.
New crowds will appear there the first week of September, when the High Holy Days start.