This month of April, Palestinians prepare in the expectation of two, very Palestinian, centuries-old traditions, which will culminate around the same time. A few days before the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid Al-Fitr feast, this year to fall in mid-May, Palestinians gather at Al Aqsa mosque by the thousands to celebrate “The Night of Destiny”. The yearly commemoration of the night on which the holy Quraan was revealed to man, through prophet Mohammad. On that night, Muslims believe, the gap between heaven and earth is breached, and prayers rise the closest to God than at any other night.
A few days before that, Palestinians will be celebrating, according to the Julian Eastern calendar, the Saturday that concludes the forty-days Christian fasting. It is the Saturday before the Sunday of resurrection, known in Palestine as “Saturday of Light”, when Palestinians gather at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to receive the fire of resurrection, symbolising the break of dawn on which Jesus was risen from the dead. On that day, Christians believe, Humanity altogether was renewed, and mankind was given a new chance for life. Both traditions deeply connect Palestinians to Jerusalem, culturally, historically, and spiritually.
Back down on earth, and leaving aside for a moment spiritual symbolism, Palestinians can’t seem any further from a new life in their country, as earth itself couldn’t seem any further from heaven. Jerusalem too, seems to be torn further apart from the rest of Palestine.
This year without Jerusalem
It hasn’t even been a week into Ramadan, and the occupation police have already attacked prayers at Al Aqsa mosque with stun-grenades, prevented a number of prayers of having Iftar in the mosque, prevented thousands more from even reaching the mosque and arrested five, in the first Friday of the holy month. But those are the ones who made it to Jerusalem. For millions of Palestinians, reaching their holy sites will be denied this year, as the occupation is suspending all permits to enter Jerusalem for Palestinians who haven’t been vaccinated against Covid.
This will include hundreds of thousands of Palestinians whose only chance to visit Al Aqsa is the month of Ramadan. But it will also include thousands of Palestinian Christians who will not be able to participate in Easter festivities, attended by pilgrims from all nationalities, especially after the occupation state announced that it might soon open its borders back for tourists. Palestinian Christians, however, the historical continuity of history’s first Christian community in the birthplace of Christianity, will be largely absent.
More than just blocking prayers
But religious occasions like Ramadan or Easter aren’t just praying occasions for Palestinians. They are high moments of the year when Palestinian culture and traditions are kept alive and given continuity. Traditions that link the people to the land, and to history. The Saturday of Light procession is a perfect example. Once the “fire of resurrection” is taken out of the Holy Sepulchre, it is brought in candles and lamps to all Christian communities across Palestine and used to light churches and altars.
In Ramallah, the epicenter of Palestinian life in the West Bank, the fire is received in a massive popular celebration where civil authorities and social dignitaries participate, Christians and Muslims alike. Scout bands parade with march music across the city and families fill the side-walks. It is a part of Jerusalem that comes to Palestinians who can’t reach it. It’s an occasion to reunite Palestine symbolically. This year, such a celebration will not be possible in Ramallah, because of the pandemic, or in Jerusalem, because the occupation decided so.
Vaccines and discrimination
At the same time that the occupation state uses the vaccination excuse to block access to Jerusalem in front of Palestinians, it continues to boast about having vaccinated the majority of its population, to the point of being ready to open to the rest of the world. Not only does the occupation state ignore its legal responsibility as an occupying power to provide vaccines to the Palestinian population, but it also proves that if it doesn’t, it is not because of lack of capacity.
Israeli occupation authorities have already begun to vaccinate Palestinian workers who hold exclusive work permits. These are permits by which workers are allowed only to go to their working place, and only to work. If they are stopped by the occupation police at Al Aqsa, holding a work permit, they might be arrested. Israel’s health ministry General Director, Hezi Levy, explicitly told the Anadolu news agency that his government decided to vaccinate Palestinian workers to prevent the spread of covid among Israelis, and that the number of workers targeted will be less than 130.000. In other words, vaccines are available for Palestinians only when their workforce is needed, and only to protect Israelis.
A fasting far from over
This procedure arrives after a whole year during which Palestinian workers were forced to choose between staying to sleep at their workplaces, often on cold cement floors and under unfinished dangerous hanging ceilings, or losing their jobs. A year in which Palestinian workers were left on the roadside outside check points, by the occupation police, after showing signs of cough and fever. A year in which hundreds of thousands of Palestinian working families struggled to make it from daily-bread to daily-bread, amidst the threat of a deadly virus and Israeli troopers searching for workers who try to sneak across the green line at night.
It has also been a year in which Palestinian presence in Jerusalem has been targeted at an alarming rate. According to the UN Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 389 Palestinian properties were demolished or confiscated during 2020. All while Palestinians were being blocked away from the city and downtrodden through their livelihood and their living conditions. All in the name of the pandemic.
Palestinians prepare to conclude their fastings this year in unusual conditions. But the longer Palestinian fasting is far from being concluded. And as the occupation state prepares to share the success story of its discriminatory vaccination plan with the rest of the world, Palestinians continue to pray in expectation for some day, in which the gap between their land heaven will be really breached, their lives at last renewed, and they will be finally able to genuinely celebrate a long-awaited resurrection.