A general view of Jerusalem's Old City. File picture: Ammar Awad/Reuters

In Jerusalem's Old City, a group of young Palestinians are marching through the streets singing and drumming at 3 in the morning. They are carrying on a generations-old Ramadaan tradition, to the dismay of their sleeping Jewish neighbours, but now police are cracking down.

Jerusalem - It's 3 am in Jerusalem's Old City, and a 15-year-old boy is banging a drum with all his might.

The beating of the drum, along with the melodic Arabic singing of his friend, bounces off the walls of the narrow stone alleyways, magnifying their presence as they march through the holy city.

The singers are continuing the tradition of the "mesaharaty," those who call on Muslims to wake, pray and eat their pre-dawn meal during the holy month of Ramadaan, when Muslims fast during the day.

While mesaharaty are no longer as necessary as they once were centuries ago, before alarm clocks and cellphones, they have evolved into a beloved Ramadaan tradition.

But in Jerusalem's Old City, sleeping Jewish neighbours see a month of early morning drumming and singing as a nuisance. They have turned to police, who have subsequently detained and fined the mesaharaty, putting the future of Jerusalem's late-night singers in limbo.

After US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the embassy there in May, the singers say they are being confronted with a newly stringent crackdown not seen in previous years.

"The police arrested me and told me not to sing one more time because we are annoying the settlements," says Mohammed Hajaj, 26, the leader of the early morning marches, referring to Jewish residents in the Muslim Quarter.

Hajaj has been belting out the Islamic carols for three years. He wears a traditional embroidered vest and carries a string of prayer beads in his left hand as he calls out by name Palestinian families in the Old City.

"O you are sleeping, your God is looking for you," he sings through the alleyways illuminated with colourful Ramadaan lanterns and lights. "Wake up, eat, pray, and then go to sleep," he calls.

Children peek out from their front doors to watch Hajaj and his companions go past, followed by about 10 teenagers trailing behind.

But as the group approaches one of the few Jewish buildings in the Muslim Quarter, they fall silent. Hajaj has already been arrested and fined three times after disgruntled Jewish residents complained, he says, and he does not want to incur more fines.

Jerusalem's Old City is divided into quarters - Muslim, Jewish, Armenian and Christian. The Muslim Quarter is the largest, with an estimated population of anywhere from 25,000 to more than 30,000 residents, compared with a few thousand in the Jewish Quarter.

The singers and drummers do not walk through the Jewish Quarter; their spat is with the some 85 Jewish families, around 1,000 people, who live in heavily guarded enclaves throughout the Muslim Quarter.

These families belong to a nationalist-religious strain of Israelis who hope to increase the Jewish population in the Old City and the rest of East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as their future capital.

Israel captured the eastern half of Jerusalem, including the Old City and all the major holy sites, in the 1967 Six-Day War, and later annexed the territory in a move that was not internationally recognized.

"It bothers me," says Rute, a Jewish teacher who has been living in the Muslim Quarter for the past year, of the noise.

Rute, 30, who declined to give her last name, says it's strictly a noise issue and has nothing to do with religion or politics.

"If I want to have a party after 11 at night, they won't let me, they will arrest me. It's the same thing. This is normal life, it's not connected to Jews or Arabs," she says.

But some Palestinians argue that the police enforcement efforts are part of a larger crackdown on Palestinian activity since Trump's Jerusalem move.

"The Israelis are trying to let the world know that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, they are trying to make everything hard on us," says Nasser Qous, a Jerusalem activist who has been assisting the singers.

So far, five mesaharaty have been arrested, fined and released this Ramadaan, says Qous.

For their part, the police say they are "determined" to crack down on the phenomenon while maintaining "the delicate balance between ensuring freedom of religion and worship, and ensuring public order and quality of life for all citizens."

Noise offences are "one of the prominent nuisances that harm the quality of life for the country's residents," the police added in a statement.

With the threat of arrest and fines dampening the merriment, Hajaj says that some parents are forbidding his teenage comrades from participating in the night walks.

While the mesaharaty are seen as an essential Ramadaan tradition, the volunteer band of youth in the Old City has no formal backing. Some do it simply for fun, a nice excuse to walk the alleyways with friends at night.

At the end of Ramadaan, they will sing a last time asking for sweets and a tip for their early morning work, but a potential 450-shekel (125-dollar) fine outweighs any small financial gain.

Still, the 26-year-old says he is not bound by his parents' warnings and will continue the ritual.

"We inherited this from our old men," Hajaj says. "Generations give this to other generations, so it will never stop."