Israel undertook a number of steps to facilitate travel during this year’s Ramadan. Jerusalem expected an estimated one-million Palestinians to cross the country’s 1948 armistice lines from from the West Bank, a record and up from the 850,000 Palestinians who visited last year.
Israel lifted a number of security restrictions, and allowed all men over 40 and women of all ages unlimited access to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount for Friday prayers. Soldiers were instructed on how to ease travel  for visitors. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a taped Ramadan message to Muslim citizens of Israel and around the world.
It was expected that many of the visiting Palestinians would go far beyond Jerusalem’s holy sites and avail themselves of the capital’s shopping malls, the port of Jaffa, Israel’s beaches, the Old City of Acre, and Tel Aviv’s cosmopolitan nightlife.
In one sense that’s exactly what happened, to the displeasure of the The Palestinian Authority minister for religious affairs. Mahmoud al-Habbash lashed out at his compatriots for preferring the bars and beaches of Tel Aviv to worshipful prayer. Habbash explained [Hebrew]  to Israel’s Maariv newspaper:
“On the Ramadan holiday, when we’re supposed to be growing closer to Allah, they obtain permits [to enter Israel] and go to the beach to flirt with immodest women.”
“No one said it’s forbidden to go to the beach or on vacation. We believe it’s possible to pray, fast and believe in Allah while also living normal, enjoyable lives,” he said, but added a caveat: “Everything has a limit. It’s not written anywhere that young people in their 20s are allowed to take advantage of their freedom to go to the bars of Tel Aviv, to dance and drink, to go to the beach and flirt with Jewish or non-Jewish girls, and to do things they will later regret.”
In 2010, Habash threatened that the Palestinians would go war over Jerusalem, declaring that “unless Jerusalem will be Palestinian, as it was throughout history…there is no peace.” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was present in the audience for the declaration. A copy of the speech is embedded below.
[Photo: Niko Kähkönen / Flickr ]