Jerusalem -The often empty streets of the old city of Jerusalem are crowded with thousands of Jerusalemites and Palestinians from the West Bank.
A few weeks before the beginning of the month of Ramadan, local activists began decorating the tiny streets of the old city with lights.
The Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem had also made extensive preparations to host hundreds of thousands of worshippers in Al-Aqsa mosque during the month.
Last year Azzam Khateeb, general director of the Islamic Waqf of Jerusalem, estimated that 3 million Palestinians visited Al-Aqsa mosque during Ramadan.
Khateeb told 7Dnews that he expects similar numbers of worshippers to visit the Muslim holy shrine this year too.
“This Friday, 180,000 attended the first Friday prayers of Ramadan. It was quiet and peaceful, and we expect more to come in the coming weeks, especially in the 10 last days of Ramadan,” Khateeb said.
Tens of thousands of Palestinians visit Al-Aqsa every Friday during the holy month and the same number attends the Taraweeh prayers every evening.
For the Holy Month, the Israeli authorities have allowed Palestinian males over 40 years old from the West Bank to attend Friday prayers in Al-Aqsa, with no restriction on females, according to an Israeli Army statement.
However, males between 12 and 40 years old are not allowed to pass through the Israeli checkpoints leading to the city of Jerusalem.
“We believe that Jerusalem should be open the entire year for worshippers, but unfortunately the Israeli authorities impose restrictions,” Sheikh Omar Kiswani, director of Al-Aqsa mosque told 7Dnews.
For many Palestinians, Ramadan is a rare opportunity to visit the city of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa mosque.
Ahmad Rimawi, 40, from the city of Ramallah, told 7Dnews “this is my first time in Jerusalem, I’m very happy. I’ve been waiting for this Ramadan for years, otherwise I would not be able to enter the city.”
Rimawi was taking a selfie with the Dome of the Rock in the background and sending it to his friends.
“Some younger friends congratulated me for this achievement and others felt jealous,” Rimawi added.
For decades, East Jerusalem was the centre for Palestinians living in the surrounding cities such as Ramallah, Bethlehem, Hebron, as well as dozens of villages.
But after Israeli military checkpoints cut off the city from its surroundings in 1993, shops in the city were forced to depend solely on residents, tourists, and Arab Israelis.
Ramadan is an economic opportunity for many Palestinians to sell their goods to visitors.
In the tiny streets of the old city, one can hear the sounds of young men offering food, sweets and even clothes to passers-by.
Ziad Hammouri, director of Jerusalem's centre for social and economic rights, told 7Dnews that the city’s economy picks up during the month of Ramadan.
“Tens of thousands of Palestinians visit the city of every week and hundreds of thousands during the month. This means a lot for a city suffering from economic distress during the year,” he said.
Hammouri added: “Ramadan is a grace for the city of Jerusalem and a blessing for its economy.”
While most of the time streets in the old city of Jerusalem look empty at sunset, during Ramadan colourful lights and street vendors bring life to them almost around the clock.
In a corner leading to the Bab Hutta quarter in the old city, a group of youths were drinking coffee, tea and juice while watching TV. For them, this is refreshment after a long day of fasting.
“People enjoy it. You can’t see such a thing on the other days of the year, Jerusalem in Ramadan is really different,” said Amar Seder, a local activist in the old city of Jerusalem.