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The Old City: The security scene threatens to spoil the Ramadan season for vendors

A Palestinian woman sells greens as Israeli border police stand guard in the old city of Jerusalem, on March 31,2022, ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan [HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images]
A Palestinian woman sells greens as Israeli border police stand guard in the old city of Jerusalem, on March 31,2022, ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan [HAZEM BADER/AFP via Getty Images]

The vendors of the Old City of Jerusalem are looking forward to a successful economic season in the month of Ramadan, but the uncertainty of the field and political scene casts doubt on their expectations this year.

Hundreds of thousands of worshippers from the West Bank and Arab cities and towns in Israel flock to East Jerusalem during Ramadan.

On their way to Al-Aqsa Mosque and while leaving it, the worshippers pass through the Old City markets, which the vendors consider a valuable opportunity to market their goods.

Thousands of worshippers also shop and buy their iftar meals from the town's markets, if they decide to stay in the Mosque to perform Tarawih prayers.

However, the City's vendors say that reports of potential clashes erupting in Jerusalem and the possible deterioration of the security situation during the month of Ramadan, have had a negative impact on their businesses.

Attention is drawn to the city of Jerusalem in light of local and international fears of the outbreak of confrontations between the Palestinians and the Israeli police, similar to what happened last year, especially since the month of Ramadan coincides this year with Jewish holidays, amid the preparations of thousands of extremist Israeli settlers to storm Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Looking forward to a successful season

"We brought the goods, and we are hoping for the best" says Jamal Abu Sneineh, who owns a shop near the Khan Al-Zayt market in the Old City.

He told the Anadolu correspondent, "We do this every year, but we hope that this year will be different," he added, referring to the year 2020, in which the gates of Al-Aqsa were closed due to the global pandemic, and the year 2021, which witnessed violent confrontations between the Palestinians and the Israeli police.

Abu Sneineh, whose shop includes decorations and handicrafts, indicates that his season depends on worshippers coming from the West Bank, the Palestinians from the Arab towns in Israel, and the City's residents.

Israel continues to take over the villages belonging to Palestinians, displacing many from their homes.

Israel continues to take over villages belonging to Palestinians in Jerusalem, displacing many from their homes – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

The Palestinian vendor refrained from completely deciding what the current season would be like in light of reports of possible confrontations following the provocations of the settlers and the attacks of the Israeli police.

But he hopes that large numbers of worshippers will flock to the City, and calm will prevail this year.

On the other hand, Issam Al-Zughayer, a vendor on Al-Wad Road leading to Al-Aqsa Mosque, drew a bleak picture after noting that "Jerusalem has turned into a ghost town".

Al-Zughayer told Anadolu Agency, "Our preparations are vague, given the events taking place. Jerusalem has turned into a ghost town, and we do not know where things are heading."

He added, "For us, we wait every year for the Ramadan season, but it seems unlikely that people will be able to come. We invite the Muslim people to come to where the Messenger, peace be upon him, made his night journey."

Israeli restrictions

According to Al-Zughayer, "the situation in Jerusalem is becoming increasingly difficult in light of Israeli policies and restrictions."

Israeli authorities require West Bank residents to obtain permits to reach Jerusalem for prayer.

Al-Zughair notes that "the Israeli police stop the buses of the Palestinians in Israel on their way to Jerusalem, subjecting them to searches and sometimes sending them back to their cities and villages."

"On the other hand, in the past, worshippers used to come in large numbers from everywhere, so you'd see Jordanians, Moroccans and worshippers from all Muslim and foreign countries," he added.

READ: Israel responsible for attacks against Palestinians during Ramadan

Al-Zughayer expresses his sadness as he points to the empty street in front of his shop, saying, "If you look, you will find a ghost town. On the eve of Ramadan, the city used to be packed with people, but now it is an empty and sad City."

Among other goods, Zughayer sells Ramadan lanterns. He used to fill his shop with their bright colours and multiple sizes.

He says, "The culture of lanterns is passed down from one generation to the other. Before electricity, people used lanterns to travel at night, to check on each other and visit their families, including during the month of Ramadan."

Al-Zughayer notes that the popularity of lanterns was great in the past years, unlike this year, due to the decline in economic conditions, pointing out that buying food for the home is more important than buying a lantern for many citizens.

A besieged economy

For many years, Jerusalem markets depended heavily on residents of the West Bank coming to Jerusalem, but with the imposition of the Israeli closure on the City in the early 1990s, they depended on its residents and those who could access it.

"The economy of Jerusalem is besieged due to the Israeli measures and the siege of the occupied City," said Fadi Al-Hadmi, Palestinian Minister of Jerusalem Affairs.

In an interview with a number of journalists, including the Anadolu correspondent, he considered that "the Israeli measures are expelling the Jerusalem economy, and the City's merchants suffer from these measures."

READ: Israel soldiers attack, hospitalise Palestinian worshippers in Jerusalem

Al-Hadmi added, "The Palestinian situation is embodied in Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan, where spirituality and solidarity prevail, and a form of Palestinian sovereignty is exercised in the neighbourhoods and alleys of the Old City, which radiates light with the Arab and Islamic presence, despite the dark shadows of the occupation."

The Palestinian Minister continued, "The occupation wants the city's markets and streets to be empty and to change the face and identity of the City. It is crossing all of the red lines by trying to change the historical and religious situation in Al-Aqsa Mosque."

He pointed out that "Israel continues its attacks on worshippers and mosque guards, as well as its storming and violations of the sanctity of the holy month."

Intense international efforts are under way to ensure Ramadan this year is calm, and to defuse potential tension during the coming days of the holy month.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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