Nearly a million entries through Israel’s land crossings were recorded during the month-long holiday, roughly double last year’s figure
Roughly 980,000 entries were recorded at Israel's land crossings during the month of Ramadan – a record figure, nearly doubling the numbers recorded during 2010 and 2011.
In honor of the month-long Islamic holiday, restrictions on crossing into Israel via land crossings were dramatically eased.
The enormous operation involved the integration of several Israeli organizations, including the Military Police, the Border Guards, the IDF’s regular infantry brigades, Israel Police, The Civil Administration, and the Red Cross.
The scene was dramatic, as seas of people flowed through the crossings and into Israel by the thousands. Maj. Gilli Becker, commander of a company of Military Police responsible for the busy Kalandia crossing near Jerusalem, termed the period “the high point of the year for the land crossings.”
Beyond the eased restrictions, several preparations were made for the enormous influx of crossers that was anticipated. Maj. Becker woke at 2:00 a.m. to prepare the crossing, which was scheduled to open two hours later. In addition, the crossings were equipped with extra bathrooms, medical facilities, and huge fans spraying water to help keep the crossers cool. Each crossing had medical staff on hand, prepared to treat those in need of medical attention.
“The reductions in the restrictions are very significant,” said Maj. Gilli Becker. “Some people are seeing Jerusalem for the first time.”
The atmosphere was festive as crossers beamed at the ease with which they were able to enter Israel. Several thanked the soldiers as they passed, with soldiers wishing them a happy Ramadan in return. “Many of the crossers are on their way to the Dome of the Rock to pray – many but not all,” said Maj. Becker. “Many are just entering to vacation, do some shopping. This is also the idea: a vacation for everyone. We want them to enjoy their holiday as best they can.”
The soldiers operating the crossing were also briefed regarding the sensitivities of serving during Ramadan. The were instructed not to eat, drink, or smoke in front of the Palestinian travelers out of respect for their observance of Ramadan. In addition, Arabic speakers were present at each gate, facilitating communication between the soldiers and the travelers. “For these travelers, we are the face of the IDF. We are what they see. So from the officer down to the private, we try to maintain a sensitive mindset,” said Maj. Becker. “We have to change the mindset of the soldier, adjust the frame of mind to be more accommodating while still keeping security in mind. It is a difficult balancing act.”
Fridays were peak times for travel into Israel. Seventy thousand Palestinians entered Israel the first Friday, 200,000 the following Friday, 175,000 the third Friday, and 90,000 on the last Friday. On the holiday of Laylat Al-Qadr, 182,100 Palestinians entered Israel.
Additionally, it was decided to keep the northern entrance to Jericho open permanently, even after the end of Ramadan, so as to further the welfare of its residents.