The holy month of Ramadan is among us and as an early gift, the Israeli government has loosened some of its restrictions and even invited Palestinians to send Facebook friend requests to President Shimon Peres.
In an announcement made today, Israel has chosen to ease a number of travel restrictions for Palestinians in the West Bank. Palestinian men over the age of 40 will finally be allowed into Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, for example, while Palestinians between 35 and 40 will require special permits.
Israel has also ordered its soldiers to refrain from eating, smoking, or drinking in front of Palestinians “to demonstrate a high level of respect”.
If Israel’s motive is to seize the month of Ramadan as an “opportunity to extend the hands to each other for peace,” as Peres says in a newly filmed Ramadan greeting, it is already standing on shaky ground. One does not respect the holiness of Ramadan by making it slightly less challenging to partake in its spiritual and religious revival. Easing restrictions that normally keep the vast majority of Palestinians from praying in Al-Aqsa is about as respectful as throwing them a bone. Eliminating the restrictions and safeguarding the rights of Palestinians is the only justified way of demonstrating respect and extending a peaceful hand.
On any normal day, West Bank Palestinians from outside of Jerusalem are prevented from visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque unless they possess explicit permission from the Israeli government or unless rare special circumstances require the checkpoints to open for short periods of time. Palestinians in Gaza are rarely even allowed into the West Bank to visit the mosque, and Palestinian citizens of Israel are oftentimes barred from visiting family members in Jerusalem. Freedom of movement? No. Freedom of religion? No, because when you can’t visit your religion’s third holiest site to fulfill compulsory religious duties, your fundamental right to practice religion as you please is threatened.
Forgive me for having to make what appears to be a very obvious point but an Israeli soldier drinking a glass of water in front of fasting Muslims isn’t a Palestinian’s greatest concern. That concern is reserved for the basic rights Israel systematically violates.
Peres capped his Ramadan greeting commercial with a very blunt reference to Facebook. “Ramadan is a good time to make new friends,” he says. “I invite you to be my friends on Facebook.” Because we all know Facebook friendships pave the way to global peace.
The month of Ramadan is observed by over a billion Muslims worldwide. Though it is widely recognized by its day-long fasts, it is more of an opportunity to spiritually cleanse the mind and the body, to develop better habits, and to improve in virtually every aspect of the word. Muslims believe that Islam’s holy text, the Qur’an, was first revealed during this month of worship.