At first glance the Jaffa street shopping district seems like a typical outdoor commercial area found in cities all over the world. A pedestrian only zone filled with stores selling fashion accessories and cheap trendy clothes, cafes with seating spilling onto the sidewalk, and various performers peppering the streets with their musical stylings. Upon further inspection details reveal the political tension that permeates the city of Jerusalem. Head coverings such as kippahs, and hijabs indicate religion, gender, ethnicity, and marital status are on display side by side in the sea of humanity that roams Jaffa center. The compound of sides isn’t all butterflies and rainbows though. In addition to musicians, public demonstrations and large and sometimes violent gatherings frequent these city blocks. In support of the police force, soldiers are often posted with loaded automatic weapons slung over their shoulders, with the occasional the riot control team. Violent outbursts are not common, but more often the stress buzzes just under the surface like a background static with unknown origin. Jaffa center is the micro view of the tension in Jerusalem as a result of the astriction of political and historical foes in the same city.
Stepping into the Old City of Jerusalem is an assault on your senses. The ancient city explodes with commercial stalls overflowing with colorful goods, and the even more colorful characters who sell them. The plethora of spice shops with bins of neatly pilled cinnamon and cardamom fill the air with delicious fragrances. The spicy smells only last until wandering into the butcher alley where animal organs not even known to be edible are on display, permeating the air along with the extraneous juices from the butchering process. Soon enough though the produce stalls fill the air, and flirt the senses with stacks of beautiful fruit, and various unidentifiable vegetables.
The best parts of the Old City are the pockets of genuine humanity, often hidden by the overwhelming presence of “salesmen.” The old men playing backgammon, hanging out at the barber shop, sleeping on the job, shooting the shit with their friends across the alley. The crowds of people clamoring at the bread cart as he momentarily stops his mobile store. The mothers buying the parts of the evening Ramadan Meal, or their counterparts preparing for Shabbat. The best place to experience these glimpses into real life is the Arab Quarter where the store keepers are more concerned with selling their shoes or house-hold tools, than even looking at the passing tourists.
Its nearly impossible to get to a specific place on purpose in the Old City. The narrow alleys and rows of identical stores immediately steal away any sense of direction. I find that its best to go with the flow and see what wonderful things the circus of the Old City brings your way.
photo credit: Sliman Khader/Flash90)
Call it American paranoia, but I’ve chosen to stay close to “home” this weekend. The update from actual news reporters.
Like usual, things sound much bigger and widespread than they really are. I’m not making a call on the importance or severity of the situation, more like the physical location. Although we are also staying in Jerusalem, close to Damascus Gate, we haven’t so much as heard any evidence of disturbances. The only indication of clashes we’ve encountered are a significant increase in police and military presence, and a slowdown of public transportation. Mom, I’m OK.