LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
This past week, Muslims celebrated the end of the holy month of Ramadan with three days of feasting, family visits and sightseeing. This year, many Palestinians in the West Bank did their sightseeing in a place usually off limits to them. Daniel Estrin reports from Jerusalem.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Tel Aviv, Yaffa, Tel Aviv.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: This is something you don't usually hear: At the main checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel, taxi drivers offering to take Palestinians to the beach in Tel Aviv.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)
ESTRIN: The West Bank is a short drive away from the Mediterranean Sea, but many Palestinians have never taken a dip. They need special permits to enter Israel. For years, Palestinians were able to cross in freely. Not any more, says lieutenant colonel Ofer Meital of the Israeli army.
LIEUTENANT COLONEL OFER MEITAL: After years of Palestinian attacks, terror attacks, against Israel civilians, the government of Israel decided no more. In order to get to Israel, you need a reason.
ESTRIN: Some get permits to work in Israel or to visit hospitals there, but most don't have permits. This past month has been different: Israel loosened entry restrictions for Ramadan and the closing Eid il Fitr holiday. Israel gave permits to 100,000 Palestinians, double the number from last year. One morning this week, hundreds lined up at the Qalandia checkpoint clutching their permission slips.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHATTER)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: (Foreign language spoken)
ESTRIN: We're looking here at like kind of a caged-in entrance where people are waiting single file, waiting to come into the checkpoint into Jerusalem from the West Bank. Twenty-year-old Majida from Ramallah waits in line with her husband, who's 25.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: (Through Translator) He has his swimming suit.
ESTRIN: They're going to head straight to the sea. Majida's never been. She speaks about Israel as if it were a faraway land.
MAJIDA: (Through Translator) I heard that the shopping there is wonderful.
ESTRIN: One Israeli mall manager reported Palestinian shoppers this past week gave his stores a 10 to 50 percent spike in sales. At an outdoor mall in Jerusalem, Israelis were browsing alongside Palestinians - a gaggle of 20-somethings from Bethlehem, a family from Nablus. Forty-year-old Rana Matour from Ramallah was checking out a pair of khaki pants at The Gap. She'd never been to The Gap before. She lives a 20-minute drive away from Jerusalem, but this is the first time in 15 years she's gotten a permit to go there. And what does it feel like to be in Jerusalem?
RANA MATOUR: Nice.
ESTRIN: Is it...
MATOUR: After 15 years to come for first time, it's good, nice.
ESTRIN: Yeah? I mean, are you excited?
MATOUR: You kid. Of course.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
ESTRIN: Across from The Gap, the Israeli cashiers at Abercrombie and Fitch say they've seen a lot of Palestinians come through their doors this month. Reactions are mixed. Do you like that Palestinians come here?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: No.
ESTRIN: Why not?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #5: They don't like me. I don't like them.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: It's good that they are coming.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #6: They have to live also.
ESTRIN: In addition to issuing special permits for Palestinian visitors to Israel, authorities also let in large numbers of Palestinians who wanted to attend prayers at the main mosque in Jerusalem. Altogether, Israel recorded 1.2 million Palestinians visitors this past month. That's about 40 percent of the West Bank population. The army says there was some Palestinian theft, but there was not a single Palestinian attack. So, why aren't most Palestinians allowed into Israel the rest of the year, asks Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.
SAEB EREKAT: If 1.2 million Palestinians were allowed to enter Israel, it means that the big question about the so-called security is not valid.
ESTRIN: The Israeli army says it nearly tripled its manpower to beef up security because of all the Palestinian visitors. It says it can't afford to do that the rest of the year. Tel Aviv beaches and Jerusalem malls are no longer packed with Palestinians. Their permits have now expired. For NPR News, I'm Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.