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Clock Tower in Old Jaffa
Photo by Rhonda Prepes

Bomb Shelter in Old Jaffa
Photo by Rhonda Prepes

Market in Old City of Jerusalem (Christian quarter)
Photo by Rhonda Prepes

Few people at the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem
Photo by Rhonda Prepes


Rhonda Prepes without head covering

Rhonda Prepes in Israel: Dazed, Confused and Lost in the Muslim Quarter !

by Rhonda J. Prepes, July 18, 2014


[Editor's note: This article was a pleasure to edit. It's one of Preppy's best.]


I go to the bus station in Netanya. It looks more like a mall than a bus station. So where do you buy the bus tickets? I’m walking. I’m looking. I’m hot and I’m carrying two heavy pieces of luggage. No luck. It’s too bad I don’t know how to say the word “ticket” in Hebrew or I could ask someone. There are Israeli soldiers everywhere in the bus station/mall in their khaki uniforms. Some carryng their M16 guns, some not. Then I remember the instructions I give my 12 year old daughter should she ever get lost.


“Find someone in a uniform and ask them for help.” Israeli Army. Uniforms. I decide to ask a soldier where the ticket booth is. She answers, “You buy the ticket from the driver on the bus.”


I venture to the old city of Jaffa outside of Tel Aviv. It is hot, picturesque, quiet and not that interesting to me becasue I was expecting it to be more like the Old City of Jerusalem. You can see that tourism is down and that the lack of walking traffic means that the artisans are suffering financially. Of course, I ask where the nearest bomb shelter is. I find it. It is close, modern, underground and therefore very cool. I feel like camping out inside the shelter for the rest of the afternoon. But I don’t.


Instead I head to the market there. It looks like on big garage sale to me. But I love a bargain so I stay and look around. I am wooed by the male shopkeepers. They say:

“You are beautiful.”

“You have lovely eyes.”

“How old are you? 35?”

“Where do you come from? Winnipeg? I have family there. Come I will give you the family discount.”

I fall for it all and end up buying souvenirs for six times the retail price, I’m sure.


I tour the old city of Jerusalem by myself, after taking a guided tour. There are very few tourists in the long alleys of shops and stores in all of the four quarters - Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim. It is eerily peaceful the day I visit although just a week prior there were violent riots in the streets of the Muslim quarter. Hundreds of Arabs rioted and demonstrated across the old city of Jerusalem after a Palestinian 16 year old was burned alive in what appears to be a revenge attack by Jewish extremists for the kidnappping and murder of three Israeli teens.


I left the Kotel (Western Wall) wanting to see more of the Jewish quarter, but accidentally I walk right into the Muslim quarter, with its maze of alley ways with no exit in sight. It is Wednesday afternoon, and as far as I can tell, I am  the only tourist around. I am the only woman without my head covered and I notice many women have their face covered, as well. I am also the only woman wearing shorts. I am dazed and confused (and hot). A little Muslim boy about 10 years old offers to show me the route out via Damascus Gate, the centre of East Jerusalem. I am finally out of the old city and out of pocket 20 shekels ! (but well worth it in order to get out of the Muslim quarter safely without attracting too much attention.) From Damascus Gate I walked to Jaffa Gate outside the old city walls and back to West Jerusalem.


[Editor's note : Good thing Preppy didn't know in advance that Palestinians rioted outside Damascus Gate as recently as the end of May, and that there have been a Jew or two stabbed there in the last year.]


I am in the Jerusalem central bus station and am returning to Netanya. The bus is clearly labelled “Netanya” although I know it will have stops in between. I am standing in line to board the bus (and pay the driver, of course) and I can hear the driver have an argument with every single person that boards the bus in front of me. About what? I don’t know. I keep my head down, pay my fare, board the bus and sit down. I have a very comfortable nap on the air-conditioned bus. I awake to the driver announcing “last stop” In Hebrew. Dazed and confused, I get off the bus. Nothing looks familiar. I walk around the four sides of the bus station. Still nothing looks familiar.


I see the two Swedish girls who were on the bus with me. I ask them, “Didn’t the bus driver say that this was the last stop?”


“Yes”, they answer in unison. So, I am not crazy.  


I say, “Well, I wanted to go to Netanya and this sure doesn’t look like Netanya.”


The girls say, “You think you have problems? We wanted to go to Ben Gurion airport outside of Tel Aviv.”


So I am lost. No clue where I am and not carrying a map or a cell phone. At least I have some food and shekels (Israeli money) in my bag. So I look for an old lady or a young man – my main sources of information. These people actually answer my questions and answer them pleasantly. Sure, they don’t always give me correct information, but they are polite.


I ask a young Israeli man, “Where am I?”


“Ra’anana,” he answers.


“Well, where is Netanya?” I ask.


“I don’t know but I will check my app for you.”


Everyone in Israel carries a cell phone and they don’t just carry it in their pocket or in their purse. It is in their hand all the time. With the help of his app, he directs me to the correct bus that takes me to Netanya.


Note to self: Don’t travel in Israel without carrying water, food, a sunhat, money, a map and a cell phone.

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