For seven decades Israel has been engaged in ethnic cleansing, threaten the City of Jerusalem with losing its heritage forever.
“If you pay attention you will see: the tour guides tell their groups not to buy from the Arabs. So there is no business.”
— A shopkeeper in the Old City of Jerusalem
It is 2:30 pm on a weekday in Jerusalem’s Old City, and one would expect the stores and restaurants to be open and busy. Standing near one of the first stations along the Via Dolorosa, the final path Jesus took as he carried his cross to his own crucifixion, I was looking around me and Abu-Shkri restaurant was closing, as were some of the t-shirt and souvenir stores. I turned to one of the shopkeepers and asked him why they were closing so early. “No business,” he replied.
This seemed like an odd thing to say as the street was full of tourists. There were some tourists walking in groups and others walking in pairs or alone. “There are thousands of people here,” I said to him. “Yes, but they don’t stop to shop, not even to look or ask for prices.” He was right. Not a single tourist was stopping. “Look,” he continued after he noticed I continued to stand there, “if you pay attention you will see: the tour guides tell their groups not to buy from the Arabs. So there is no business.”
Ra’ed Saade’s family has been operating the Jerusalem Hotel in East Jerusalem since 1961. The building sits on the corner of Antar Ben Shadad street and Nablus Road, across from the Old City’s beautiful Damascus Gate. It has a long history and it was established as a hotel in the early 1950’s. When Ra’ed remodeled the hotel he had a line from Antar Ben Shadad poems etched on the beds in each of the 14 rooms. The rooms, each one unique, and the entire hotel are decorated in traditional Palestinian style. Ra’ed and I sat in the garden restaurant that overlooks the street and talked; he is a living encyclopedia of Palestine in general and of Jerusalem in particular.
The restaurant is like a closed-off balcony, covered in vines, and is often used for large family gatherings and social events, as well as private dinners and drinks. A delivery man rushed in to bring supplies to the restaurant. “He needs to hurry because he is not allowed to park here,” Ra’ed said, pointing to the curb where the truck was standing. “For years we have been asking the city for a permit for vendors to drop off supplies but they deny us.” It seems that this is only one of many tactics the Jerusalem municipality and the Israeli authorities use to make life for Ra’ed and other Palestinian business owners difficult.
“They are marginalizing Jerusalem,” Ra’ed commented, “pushing the Palestinian businesses out.” During the month of Ramadan, Ra’ed was asked to host an Iftar dinner for a group of local Palestinian business leaders. Iftar is the evening meal breaking the fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and is often used as an opportunity for large social gatherings. “I spent over 4,000 shekel, more than $1,000, in preparations.” As guests began coming in, the authorities showed up and closed the event.