Ramadan is a month of mercy; a sacred time for Muslims to put the worship of God and self-reflection before the demands of their stomachs. Fasting is good for the body and the soul, and many Muslims claim that Ramadan leaves them more able to live stronger, more moral lives through the rest of the year. More than this, to Muslims the month of Ramadan is a holy time when people are called to pay closer attention to their prayers and the worship of Allah. In Palestine the Israeli occupation has made it effectively impossible for most Palestinian Muslims to travel to the holy places, but this year Israel has relaxed the travel restrictions and many have taken to the road to worship at the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Mahmoud Abbas, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, has said that this is a cynical move by the forces of occupation to create increased mayhem, and indeed it has. Security checkpoints at the Israeli-Palestinian border may have been relaxed a little, but the Israeli military checkpoints all over the interior of the West Bank remain as tight as ever resulting in what has amounted to a twenty-four hour gridlock throughout the territory.
As expected, families have decided to go up to Jerusalem in their droves – and who would blame them? These are people who have been severely restricted in their movements for years. Of course they are going to stretch their legs. For an entire week now the dusty roads of the West Bank have been blocked solid under the blistering summer sun. Ambulances and other essential services have been almost completely unable to move. In the late evenings people who have been fasting all day have been stuck in their cars – with children and the elderly – for hours on end. Israeli authorities have obviously calculated this as yet another cruel trick with which to taunt the people of Palestine, and Israeli newspapers are decrying Abbas and the PA for preferring to see Palestinians suffer rather than enjoy this brief moment of ‘freedom.’ Many Palestinian Christians have responded to this by taking to the roads and the streets with bottled water and food for their neighbours and friends stuck in the traffic. To the Israeli occupiers both Muslims and Christians are the same – Palestinians; an inconvenient presence in the land they so dearly want all to themselves. Who would have thought that bottles of water would give the lie to the claim that Islam is the enemy of Christianity?