al-Aqsa Mosque with a broken window after Israeli police conducted an overnight raid during Ramadan, April 5, 2023


Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images 

Feature Story

Islamic Authorities and Community Prepare Warily for Ramadan


As Ramadan approaches under the long shadow of Israel’s genocidal assault on Gaza, Palestinian Jerusalemites and Islamic authorities are apprehensive that Israel might challenge traditional religious practices during the month, causing confrontations to erupt.

Murad Saadallah, 29, did not understand why the Israeli police were calling him over recently. When he approached them, he was told that an order had been issued banning him from entry to al-Aqsa Mosque for a week, and that the order would be reviewed after that week. If it turned out that his behavior was positive, the police might allow him to enter the mosque. If not, they would ban him from entering the mosque for the entire month of Ramadan, they said.1

Another Palestinian Jerusalemite, Louay, told Jerusalem Story that he did not know why he had been banned from entering al-Aqsa Mosque. His ban, more than four months ago, appears to have been a belated punishment for having practiced the ritual of i‘tikaf during Ramadan last April. At the time, Israeli police stormed the Qibli Mosque overnight, arresting hundreds of Palestinians, injuring a dozen, and wreaking havoc. “I was there overnight when Israeli police stormed the mosque last year. We were not interrogated, but we were savagely beaten before we were released; we were never given a reason,”2 he explained.

Israeli police forcibly remove Palestinian Muslim worshippers from the area of the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest mosque in Islam, during Ramadan in April 2023

Israeli security forces remove Palestinian Muslim worshippers sitting on the grounds of the Haram al-Sharif compound in Jerusalem, early on April 5, 2023, during Ramadan.


Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Palestinians confront Israeli security forces inside Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque compound as dawn approached on April 5, 2023, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Palestinians confront Israeli security forces inside Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the early morning hours on April 5, 2023, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.


Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Increased Surveillance

The banning of Saadallah and others from al-Aqsa Mosque is not the only form of restriction that Israel has been imposing on Palestinian Muslim worshippers and to the mosque area in anticipation of Ramadan, due to begin March 11. Israel has erected a tower of cameras overlooking al-Aqsa Mosque,3 which the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates described “as a dangerous violation of the status quo.”4 In its statement, the Palestinian Ministry condemned “the Israeli occupation’s construction of a tower and the installation of surveillance cameras on the western wall of al-Aqsa Mosque, the daily incursions, and all the occupation’s attempts aimed at changing the historical, political, demographic, and legal reality of Jerusalem and its holy sites, flooding it with settlements and completely separating it from its Palestinian surroundings.”5

The ministry also condemned the continued Israeli targeting of Jerusalem and its residents in general, and the Christian and Islamic holy sites, especially the al-Aqsa Mosque. It called these actions part of “Judaization” measures and restrictions on the freedom of worshippers and access to prayer in places of worship and al-Aqsa Mosque, especially in the holy month of Ramadan.

Israel has erected a tower of cameras overlooking al-Aqsa Mosque.

Israel has installed a tower of surveillance cameras overlooking al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem just ahead of Ramadan.

Israel has installed a tall tower of surveillance cameras overlooking al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem just ahead of Ramadan, as shown here on March 3, 2024.


Khalil Assali for Jerusalem Story

Preparations Completed; Police Presence Expanded

The Islamic Waqf Council of Jerusalem announced on its website that it had completed the preparations for Ramadan, “regardless of the Israeli measures the police had prepared regarding al-Aqsa Mosque, including concerns that Israel was planning to set conditions for the entry of worshippers from Jerusalem, from Palestinian citizens of Israel, and even from the rest of the West Bank.”6

Eyewitnesses in Jerusalem have said that the Israeli police presence inside the Haram al-Sharif compound has become so heavy that it obstructs the movement of Muslims visiting from Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Britain, and elsewhere inside the mosque. Needless to say, Israeli Jews who wish to visit have freedom of movement throughout the holy Muslim site.

A senior Waqf Council source told Jerusalem Story that the Muslim faithful from around the world prefer to visit al-Aqsa Mosque during the last 10 days of Ramadan if at all possible. Part of their worship is to spend quiet time in prayer, secluded in the various buildings and corners of the mosque.

Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, director general of the Islamic Jerusalem Waqf, insists that Muslims from around the world will be received with open arms and that the staff of the Islamic Waqf Department will ensure that they are able to practice their faith within the confines of the Islamic shrine.

Sheikh Azzam told Jerusalem Story that the various imams who will lead the faithful during the daily prayers, especially the evening and tarawih prayers, have been scheduled. Al-Khatib also noted that other Ramadan activities include programs for the Friday prayers and for the recitation of the Quran and lessons in sharia, which will take place daily throughout the holy month.

Muslim worshippers find community on the grounds of al-Aqsa Mosque on a night during Ramadan, April 2022.

Worshippers walk through the Haram al-Sharif at night during Ramadan in April 2022.


Jerusalem Story Team

Sheikh Azzam explained that volunteer emergency and medical committees and associations that will provide health services to worshippers in the mosque are in place. Several temporary field clinics will be deployed inside the mosque courtyards equipped to provide first aid, in addition to the regular permanent clinics at al-Aqsa Mosque that are affiliated with the Arab Health Center. Ambulances will be available around the clock outside the Lions’ Gate to transport emergency cases that need advanced medical intervention to hospitals.

Sheikh Azzam pointed out that the Waqf Council will provide daily iftar meals for all worshippers in the mosque. These meals will be of high quality and include all the nutritional elements needed by the fasting person. Daily breakfast and suhur meals will also be provided to all guards and workers at the mosque.

Allowed Practices during the Last 10 Days of Ramadan, per the Waqf

In previous years, the Israeli police forcefully expelled those who secluded themselves in al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan, but now an agreement has been reached to calm the situation, and it permits Muslims to seclude themselves in the last 10 days of the month (i‘tikaf) in keeping with religious tradition.

The last 10 days of Ramadan are especially significant to Muslims, and standing in prayer on the night of Laylat al-Qadr (the night that the Quran was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, which is believed to occur on one of these 10 nights without a specific knowledge as to which one), is said to be the most potent form of worship.

This year the Waqf Council has decided that on Thursday and Friday nights and during the last 10 days of Ramadan, worshippers can spend their time in tahajjud (night prayers), dhikr (recitations of devotional litanies), and worship throughout the night until the morning sunrise prayer. This will end on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, according to the council’s statement published on the Waqf website.

Some believe that this decision will be seen as a challenge to the Israeli position that rejects i‘tikaf. Dr. Amjad al-Shehab, director of Al-Maqdisi College and a well-known analyst, predicted to Jerusalem Story that confrontations between Israeli police and worshippers would take place. “I think that there will be confrontations as there were in previous years, but because of the psychological state of the people and the absence of religious authorities and political leaders, I do not think that it is easy for large-scale confrontations to occur as was the case years ago.” He predicted that massive demonstrations will not take place, but rather they will be limited in place and time.7

The Muslim faithful from around the world prefer to visit al-Aqsa Mosque during the last 10 days of Ramadan.

Local Religious Leaders Reject Restrictions on Worship

Bishop Atallah Hanna, Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Sebastia, said in a statement that the restrictions on access to al-Aqsa Mosque during the month of Ramadan were completely unacceptable.

In an interview with Jerusalem Story, the bishop rejected the Israeli plans to restrict Muslims from worshipping in al-Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan. “Muslims have the right to reach their holy places, just as Christians also have the right to reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Believers should not be prevented from arriving at places of worship to perform their religious rituals. Jerusalem must be open to our people so that they can reach all holy places, and to wander through its markets and walk the path of its suffering in the hope of a resurrection filled with victory over injustice and oppression.”8

In Light of Gaza, “A Month of Reckoning for the Soul”

Prominent political activist Salah Zahika told Jerusalem Story that Ramadan this year differs from previous years because of what Palestinians are going through, which cannot be compared or measured with what happened in 1948 or 1967. “The real impact of Ramadan this year will be its repercussions in the Arab and Islamic world alike, more than ever before, especially since people in this holy month become keener on getting closer to God, as this is a month of reckoning the soul for what it has fallen short of.”9

Zahika added that he believes that the dangers to which al-Aqsa Mosque is exposed, including desecration and incursions, will lead to the Zionists daring to demolish it, or at the very least, dividing access to it by space and time on behalf of extremist Jewish settlers. This constitutes aggression against the Islamic faith, he said. “That is why I do not want to guess or predict what will happen after al-Aqsa Flood [Operation on October 7, 2023]. Israel insists on imposing restrictions on the entry of Muslims into al-Aqsa Mosque. As for fasting, it will be according to Gaza time. If they eat, we eat; if they are hungry, we will be hungry like them.”

The Islamic Waqf in Jerusalem, which is part of the Jordanian government’s Waqf Ministry, has a staff of about 1,000 people, whose salaries are paid by the Jordanian government. It is safe to assume that the strong position put out by the Jerusalem Waqf was approved in Amman. Jordan has refrained from making any public statements on the issue of Ramadan in the al-Aqsa Mosque, but it clearly must still have strong ties with the Israeli security establishment. Jordan’s near daily air drops in Gaza testify to the important level of coordination. The recent Israeli decision to remove the Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir from day-to-day decision-making regarding the al-Aqsa Mosque compound during Ramadan shows that the Jordanian plan is working.

Nevertheless, some big questions remain regarding what restrictions on worshippers will be applied during Ramadan and whether those restrictions will increase or decrease the chances of instability in Palestine.

“As for fasting, it will be according to Gaza time.”

Salah Zahika, Jerusalemite political activist



Sheikh Azzam al-Khatib, interview by the authors, March 2, 2024. All subsequent quotes from al-Khatib are from this interview.


Louay (pseudonym), interview by the authors, March 1, 2024.


Dozens of Settlers Defile Aqsa, IOA Sets Up More Security Cameras,” The Palestinian Information Center (PIC), February 26, 2024.


“Foreign Ministry Condemns.”


Amjad al-Shehab, interview by the authors, March 1, 2024.


Bishop Atallah Hanna, interview by the authors, March 3, 2024.


Salah Zahika, interview by the authors, March 1, 2024. All subsequent quotes from Zahika are from this interview.

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