Palestinians exit Damascus Gate from the Muslim Quarter on the first night of Ramadan, March 11, 2024, after performing the evening prayer.


Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

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A Breath of Respite: Impressions of a Local Jerusalemite on the First Day of Ramadan

Ali Qleibo, a lifelong Jerusalemite and professor of ancient classical civilizations at Al-Quds University, could not stay away from Jerusalem’s Old City during the month of Ramadan. Upon returning from a visit to Amman, he immediately headed for the Old City and went directly to al-Aqsa Mosque to experience again the special moment of breaking the daily fast with iftar and the unique spiritual aura of the area during the holy month.

Ali took a photograph as the sun set on the domes of the houses of the Old City and the golden Dome of the Rock. He felt a heaviness in his heart as he recalled the festive atmosphere of Ramadan in the city in previous years.

There were no signs of joy this year; Israel’s monthslong war on Gaza made that impossible (see No Public Celebrations or Decorations in Jerusalem This Ramadan). He tried to console himself by saying that it was only the first day of Ramadan and that maybe things would improve over time.

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There were no signs of joy this year.

The moment was particularly heavy with uncertainty, as Israel has been imposing restrictions on entry to the Old City and al-Aqsa Mosque since the war broke out on October 7, 2023. Only Old City residents or nonresidents over the age of 60 or 70 had been allowed in to pray. What would happen now, he wondered?

After breaking his fast, he went to Souk al-Qattanin, which usually is the focus of attention of the worshippers, lured by the many shops and cafes.

In the alleys of the ancient covered souk, he could smell freshly squeezed juices, and his eyes feasted on the sweets with bright, sparkling colors. There is a shop that sells the well-known Jerusalem sesame sweets; some are plain, some are sweet, and some include pistachios or coconut.

A cafe that serves tea, coffee, and hookah (water pipes) was full of worshippers after partaking of the iftar, but he was also surprised that some of these shops were closed.

After months of closure, shopkeepers in Jerusalem’s Old City were relieved to see customers on the first day of Ramadan 2024.

Palestinian Jerusalemites defied tensions and, after long months of closure due to war, came to shop to fulfill their needs for Ramadan in Jerusalem’s Old City as the holy month of Ramadan began on March 12, 2024. Despite the challenges, Palestinians continued to observe their cultural traditions amid the backdrop of the war in Gaza.


Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu via Getty Images

The scene changed as the ‘isha and tarawih prayer times approached, and crowds of worshippers began to flow toward al-Aqsa Mosque. Despite the Israeli police barriers at the entrances to the mosque, he was happy to note that the police facilitated the entry even of young men—but only after withholding IDs and notifying them that if they were late to leave after prayer, they would find their ID cards at the nearby police station. Ali realized that this was the Israeli way of scaring and intimidating the youth: They had to leave as soon as prayers were over.

More than 30,000 worshippers went to al-Aqsa Mosque for the ‘isha prayers. Most of them had to pray in the sprawling courtyard of the holy mosque.

More than 30,000 worshippers went to al-Aqsa Mosque for the ‘isha prayers.

Palestinian Muslims perform the Tarawih prayer in Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif compound during Ramadan, March 11, 2024.

Palestinian Muslims perform an evening prayer known as tarawih outside the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Haram al-Sharif compound during the holy month of Ramadan, on March 11, 2024, amid Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza.


Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

Hanging out at Damascus Gate on the first night of Ramadan

Hanging out at Damascus Gate on the first night of Ramadan


Khalil Assali

As he was heading along al-Wad Street toward Damascus Gate, Ali found it heartwarming that the Damascus Gate plaza was crowded with young people who sat on the steps of the gate. For more than five months, the police had prevented people, including tired elderly men, from sitting on the steps. Lately, they had even started ticketing people for sitting there.

On this first night of Ramadan, however, people had reclaimed the space and were clearly enjoying themselves.

Will this last, he wondered?