Conflict & Justice

The oasis that is Jerusalem


A partial view of Jerusalem's Old City, showing the Dome of the Rock at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews and Israelis as the Temple Mount.


Gali Tibbon

JERUSALEM — Jerusalem this balmy mid-September Saturday felt ripe with end of summer bounties.

At Nabil Shalaldad's grocery on Salah e-Din Street, a principal commercial road in East Jerusalem, Arabic-speaking Jews and Hebrew-speaking Arabs mingled as they chose their salad greens, wild zucchini, lima beans, and dark purple figs.

Families enjoyed coffee and milkshakes at the Educational Bookshop up the street, and men pushed strollers past knots of schoolgirls lugging new pink backpacks.

Every few meters on Salah e-Din and A-Zahara streets, clutches of four or five boys in late adolescence cracked sunflower seeds as they leaned against parked cars, checking out the passing girls.

"Prophet or no prophet, who cares?" chuckled 48-year-old Jawad Edkidek, a cab driver. "Look, people here care about the prophet as much as anywhere else. It is not true to say otherwise. But there they are, hanging out, looking for girls."

Edkidek's indulgence has its limits. A father of three girls and a boy, he made sure to install the family computer smack in the middle of his living room, in plain view.

"Whoever needs it to study comes in, gets what they need, prints it out and goes back to their homework," he says. "The computer in my house is for school. It's not for nonsense."

He has heard of but not seen the movie that set the Arab world aflame, and has no interest in seeing it. Mostly, he thinks, the movie was made to "ensure Obama will not be reelected and to test all the new guys, Morsi, in Tunisia, in Libya."

"They want to see who comes out for America and who is against," he says "but for sure, after this, Obama will not continue being president. He had to come out quickly, apologize and stop it before it spread. This is very bad, very bad for him."

Would he go out to protest?

"Of course not," Edkidek explains. "What would I get out of that?"

What about if his 17-year-old wanted to protest?

"My daughter studies, she doesn't waste her time," he says, "and my son likes football."

End of story.

Jerusalem, the third holiest site in the Islamic faith, has remained an oasis of relative calm in the furious days that have followed the release of "Innocence of the Muslims," a crudely made anti-Islamic smear apparently cobbled together by Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, a Los Angeles-based Egyptian Copt with a pockmarked criminal history and involvement in the porn industry. 

More from GlobalPost: Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, 'Innocence of Muslims' filmmaker, questioned by police

At the conclusion of Friday prayers, about three hundred worshipers broke off into a protest that exited the old city at Damascus Gate and threaded its way to the American Consulate on Agron Road, a short distance away.

Coincidentally, that is where the murdered American ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, served during his years in Jerusalem, though it appeared none of the participants grasped the irony.

In case protests grew, a few thousand police officers were dispersed around downtown Jerusalem since morning; mostly, they seemed to be sweating in their heavy back protective gear.

At the Educational Bookshop, which, with its underground hall for readings and second-floor coffee shop, is as much cultural center as commercial enterprise, Ihad Muna, one of the band of brothers who own the institution, was busy Saturday serving coffee, cake, and discussing Moleskine notebooks.

"I think people in Jerusalem have enough on their minds," he said about the lack of street fervor.

"This is important, of course. It is a very tough film," Muna says. "Here in Jerusalem we follow everything. We have access to the entire world, to Internet. We know the entire Arab world is acting out and we are not acting."

"In my opinion," he continues, "the people of Jerusalem have simply had enough of protesting. We have other stuff to do."

His older brother, Imad, 48, remembers Ambassador Stevens from frequent coffee breaks, and whispers, "Of all people, he didn't deserve this."

"There is no one reason people here aren't on the streets," Imad says. "In Jerusalem especially, people are more connected with the Western World, more educated. We have NGOs here, our sons and brothers study with people from the entire world, we live among them…" 

His son is studying at Kent University. One brother studied at Sussex, another at Bessançon, and yet another at Bergen University, in Norway. The youngest of the lot, Murad, studied at Hebrew University. Iyad, yet another brother, works in West Jerusalem.

"We have Israeli friends," he says." We have all friends. We Palestinians know that the Western world does not mean to harm us with that movie. It doesn't mean the Western world want to harm the Muslim world."

At a neighboring shop. Mu'akket Spices, Ibrahim Mu'akket, 23, the owner's son, is a graduate of an Israeli college specializing in natural medicine.

"I'd die for Islam," the young man says. "God forbid people put out things like this movie. But we know it not connected to Jews. It is only the handiwork of whoever made it." 

Hazem Siam, 27, is President of the Union of Jerusalem Graduates, a Palestinian NGO whose purpose it is to find jobs for university graduates.

"The people of Jerusalem are by our natures quiet," he says with an easy smile. "The entire world fights over us, from the Romans through the Muslims and even the French—but the people of Jerusalem are always calm."

"You know, there are not only Muslims here. Not only Christians. Not only Jews. We are all mixed. I think that is one reason we don't go for the crazy. My neighbor is a Christian. We don't rush out to attack."

"We are not like Saudi Arabia. Or like Egypt, or even Lebanon. You see Christians and Muslims fighting there, Sunnis and Shias fighting. In Jerusalem, even Fatah and Hamas aren't at war. This is Jerusalem!"