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Wake Up Café East Jerusalem.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.


Street Vendor in East Jerusalem.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.


View of the street from the window of the Wake Up Café.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.


View of the street from the window of the Wake up Café, East Jerusalem.

 
East Jerusalem Tourist Economy Is Only Now beginning To Pick up

One Palestinian suggests that Saudia Arabia should buy all the West Bank settlements [including East Jerusalem] from Israel and give them to the Palestinians

By Rhonda Spivak, November 1, 2009

East Jerusalem-  In April 2008, I reported that eight years after the intifada, the tourist infrastructure in downtown East Jerusalem is now  beginning to be rebuilt. 

That is a process that has continued somewhat, with a newly renovated Y.M.C.A in East Jerusalem which has an  up graded hotel with modern rooms and a sleek lobby.
 
Walking down Salah-A-din street, East Jerusalem’s main artery at eight in the morning in 2008, it was difficult to find an English newspaper. “I only carry a few everyday, because there is no demand... If you want The Jerusalem Post, try coming back tomorrow,” says Sami, a shopkeeper, who did not want to give his last name. 

On the streets at the time, there were very few Western or European tourists, something which is still largely the situation.

Assad, who sold drinks and Arab style bread was pleased to see me stopping to buy water. “Tourism has been no good here,” he said in 2008. The driver at Jaber Taxi said the same: “I am making my living driving Jewish tourists in West Jerusalem. There are practically no Christian tourists or pilgrims in East Jerusalem.”

A group of young Moslem teenage girls with traditional head coverings is the only organized group which passes by in the afternoon. The only Jewish Israelis I encountered were I.D. F. soldiers sitting in a green army jeep, and a policeman with a camera.

There is one other Jewish Israeli I see, an ultra-orthodox man who was in  a candy shop of  a local Arab man, behind the counter talking with him, presumably making a business transaction.  When they saw me come in and I pulled out my camera, they both turned away, neither wanted to be filmed making a business deal “with the other side.”
 
In 2008, I spoke with Mohammed Karain, a manager of the “Wake-Up Café, who said that his café is part of a hotel that is not yet opened.  As he says “This used to be the National Place Hotel, the nicest hotel in East Jerusalem, where King Hussein used to stay. The hotel has been closed since second intifada in 2000 and Palestinian businessmen from here who live in the United States bought it.  But, they only had enough money to open opened this café and will open banquet rooms soon. With the money from the cafe and banquet rooms, we are going to renovate so we can eventually open 65 hotel rooms.  We hope to charge about $50 U.S. dollars a night, including breakfast.” [As he said it, I thought of how impossible it would be to get anything decent for $50 U.S. dollars in East Jerusalem.]

In the spring of 2008, the nearby Ritz Hotel on Ibn Khaldoun street had  just re-opened approximately 45 rooms after being closed since the intifada in 2000.   “They have just painted it.  Before they did that you could see all of the bullet holes on the front of the hotel. It looked horrible,” said Christine, a Canadian living  in East Jerusalem.

Karain complained that “Jordanians who want to get visas to come visit Jerusalem have a hard time. People apply and they wait two or three or four months and then they are refused by Israel because of security. Before Israel issues a visa, it must be sure that this guy isn’t dangerous or doesn’t talk politics. Because of this, East Jerusalem is cut off from it’s  natural source of tourism, which is Jordan…Very few Egyptians come here. They don’t come because it’s just peace on paper. It’s not real.  But, if there’s no tourism, there’s no life here.”
 
He added “Look it can take me almost 6 hours to get from here to Nablus, and I have to go through 6-7 checkpoints to do it. Even though the town of Abu Dis is only 10 minutes away, because of the security wall [which cuts the town in half] it is very complicated to get there.”

But Isaac Khalimi, a Jewish biblical scholar living in East Jerusalem at the time said “It’s not as if Palestinians here are speaking in moderate tones.” He says that on the wall of the restaurant at the local Azzahra hotel street there is a map of all of Israel and territories, with the word Palestine all over it.  “That’s why I don’t want to eat there.  How can I be sure my money isn’t going to supporting terrorism?” Khalimi said.
 
Although Karain , who used to work as a banquet manager at the Hilton Hotel in West Jerusalem, wants to see tourism flourish, he says “The Israeli government isn’t giving [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas anything so that the Palestinian people can support him.  Israel must go back to the 67 borders soon. I think that Saudia Arabia should buy all of the Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank from Israel and give them to the Palestinians. If Israel doesn’t go back to the 67 lines, then every young [Palestinian] boy will be lining up to fight another war. If there won’t be two countries, then there will be one country, and it will be a Palestinian country. ”

Hashem, a local cook also says he supports a two-state solution which would mean the revival of Palestinian tourism.   But, he believes that “Israel has to evacuate all of the settlements” over the green line, including any of the neighborhoods it has built in East Jerusalem.

“ For all that Palestinians and the Arab states talk of East Jerusalem being the future capital of a Palestinian state, it is clear they have not invested in the area and helped the local economy survive.  They can all be nationalists but that won’t help put bread on the table” said Khalimi.

One Palestinian waiter in an East Jerusalem hotel said, “If you want to see construction taking place go to Ramallah.  There’s a lot more investment going on there than in East Jerusalem.”

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.