In Jerusalem’s Old Town, Israeli ‘siege’ forces Palestinian shops to shut | Characteristics

Previous Town, Occupied East Jerusalem – On a corner just outside one particular of the gates to the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound in the Outdated City of Jerusalem, 30-calendar year-outdated Abu Mohammad was standing amid the scent of spices, dried fruit and herbs wafting as a result of his a long time-outdated store.

“I’ve been listed here all my daily life. My grandfather labored in spices in the Aged Metropolis of Jerusalem his overall lifetime as effectively,” the father of a few explained to Al Jazeera.

Just before the onset of Israel’s war on the besieged Gaza Strip less than 80km (50 miles) absent final Oct, Abu Mohammad would have to carry in a cargo of new develop as soon as a 7 days to hold the shop stocked up and fulfill the significant need for it. Because Oct 7, when the war started, he has not brought in any shipments in at all.

The Outdated City is not only property to the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock – 1 of Islam’s holiest internet sites – it is also the spot of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, considered by Christians to be the web page exactly where Jesus was crucified, and the Western Wall, which Jews feel to be the very last remnant of the Next Temple. The Aged Metropolis, as a result, usually appeals to large figures of pilgrims and site visitors from all around the earth. In 2019, some 5 million travellers visited the nation from abroad, with Jerusalem the range just one vacation spot, in accordance to the Jerusalem-based Arab Chamber of Commerce and Sector.

Apart from its great importance for tourism, the Old Town and its surrounding business areas have traditionally designed up the most central market for the 350,000 Palestinians residing and working in Jerusalem.

But given that the get started of the war, through which additional than 28,000 Palestinians have been killed, Israeli forces have carried out strict checks on all entrances to the Previous Metropolis in what people describe as a “siege”, with only those with registered addresses within the Old City authorized to enter.

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Israeli forces have set up checkpoints and metal barricades blocking gates to the Outdated City in Jerusalem because Oct 7 [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera]

Substantial quantities of Israeli paramilitary officers are stationed at checkpoints with metallic barricades at all the open up gates of the Outdated Metropolis, and are notably intensely deployed at the gates utilized largely by Palestinians – Bab al-Amud (Damascus Gate), Bab az-Zahra (Herod’s Gate), Bab al-Asbat (Lion’s Gate) and Bab al-Jadid (New Gate).

Around the previous four months, Abu Mohammad claimed, there has been no require for shipments of produce.

“I’m not advertising at all,” he said.

Empty streets

The charming, slender cobblestone streets of the Previous Town, which the moment were being filled with a in no way-ending stream of Palestinians, pilgrims and readers, are these days nearly fully empty. Shouts from Palestinian vendors contacting out to customers, as effectively as the aged women of all ages advertising contemporary herbs on the techniques of the Previous City streets, have all long gone.

Revenue from his keep, Abu Mohammad mentioned, “dropped by 99 p.c during the war on Gaza”. The only people today to take a look at his shop these times are individuals who dwell in the Outdated City.

“We are shedding revenue and have been pressured to throw out many of our food stuff objects mainly because they expired,” he added.

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Palestinian-owned suppliers at Damascus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem have been forced to shut their doorways [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera]

The Old Metropolis of Jerusalem, which is positioned in the japanese Israeli-occupied facet of the metropolis, includes about 2,000 Palestinian-owned outlets, together with 450 souvenir shops, 25 dining places and 23 supermarkets. A 3rd of them had shut because of to Israeli limitations and superior taxes prior to Oct 7.

Since the war, having said that, at the very least 50 % of all Palestinian merchants have now been compelled to shut their doors possibly totally or partly, according to Louay al-Husseini, the normal manager of the Arab Chamber of Commerce and Field.

“The majority of shops depend on tourism, and there is zero tourism in excess of the past 4 months,” al-Husseini informed Al Jazeera.

“Most of the retailers are afflicted – even the bakeries, and the fruit and vegetable outlets – they rely on eating places, which in flip depend on tourists,” he ongoing. “It is a chain of creation – when a single part breaks down, it all breaks down.”

‘Worst condition in 40 years’

In an additional corner of the Previous Town, Tawfiq al-Halawani is however functioning his tiny shop, the shelves of which are overflowing with sweets, as effectively as Arab and Turkish sweets.

When his retail outlet, like Abu Mohammad’s, is positioned on a big thoroughfare recognized as al-Wad Avenue which operates from Damascus Gate – the major of the Old Metropolis gates – specifically to the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound, there are few buyers. On lots of times, there are none at all.

“I’ve been in this shop for 40 yrs. This is the longest and the worst condition we have lived by way of in the Aged Metropolis,” he explained to Al Jazeera.

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Inside of Tawfiq al-Halawani’s little shop in Jerusalem’s Outdated City [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera]

“We closed our doorways at the get started of the war and we opened yet again following that, but it was ineffective. We would not offer, nor get,” he ongoing. “For the past 130 times, some suppliers did not open up their doorways at all or promote everything.”

The Israeli checkpoints at the entrances to the Aged Metropolis, he suggests, are “arbitrary, illogical, and there is no justification for them”.

“They avoid folks from praying in the Previous City and from buying. We are at the issue of down below zero – no one is getting anything at all whilst we go on to fork out taxes and weighty charges to retain our retailers open,” al-Halawani stated.

Numerous of the shop proprietors Al Jazeera tried to job interview, like aged males, declined to talk, fearing arrest or punishment by Israeli law enforcement.

1 storeowner, who took a great deal convincing right before he spoke anonymously, advised Al Jazeera: “I am a son of Jerusalem and I stay in the Previous City. I’m afraid to discuss out because of the circumstance we are living in.”

He observed the rise in violence and harassment by Israeli forces, significantly in opposition to younger Palestinian adult males, at the checkpoints set up close to the Previous City, a actuality that has more deterred Palestinians from coming to pray or shop.

“Our sons are staying beaten, assaulted, kicked – and they get spat at,” the shopkeeper mentioned. “If you try out to complain, the officer will tell you ‘So what?’, but if you search at a settler the incorrect way, the police will detain us,” the gentleman explained.

“If a woman is carrying a keffiyeh, they humiliate her, get her cell phone and within minutes you see them handcuffing her and taking her,” he continued.

“My good friends request me: Why do you close on Fridays? I tell them: ‘There’s no folks, there are no worshippers.’

“We shut our stores the the vast majority of the week. It is not just me – everyone. If we really don’t get provoked by the settlers, then it is the [Israeli-controlled] Jerusalem municipality, if not the municipality then it is the law enforcement, the army,” he claimed. “Their despise has turn into extremely noticeable because the war on Gaza.”

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An Israeli soldier stands at a checkpoint at Damascus Gate, with a sticker beside him which reads: ‘With our troopers we give support, and in Gaza we be successful.’ [File photo: Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera]

‘They want us to near our doors’

The japanese half of Jerusalem was militarily occupied by Israel in 1967 and illegally annexed. At minimum 350,000 Palestinians at this time stay in occupied East Jerusalem, with some 220,000 illegal Israeli settlers living in greatly fortified, Jewish-only settlements among the them.

About 86 per cent of occupied East Jerusalem is underneath the direct regulate of the Israeli govt and settlers. The annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognised by any region in the planet, apart from the United States, as it violates international law which states that an occupying ability simply cannot have sovereignty in the territory it occupies.

Nearby NGOs and legal rights teams have extended pointed to a vary of Israeli procedures and procedures in Jerusalem which they say are aimed at altering the demographic ratio in favour of Israeli Jews, a target laid out as “maintaining a strong Jewish the vast majority in the city” in the municipality’s 2000 masterplan.

Illegal growth of settlements, systematic Palestinian household demolitions and severe restrictions on Palestinian city improvement are some of the major procedures currently being applied to realise this objective, according to rights groups.

Shop owners in the Outdated City say they believe shutting them down is just a further way to forcibly displace Palestinians in Jerusalem.

“They want us to near our doorways. They want the Old Metropolis to be as vacant as it is these days, so that it is less complicated for them to handle it, and so that the settlers can waltz all around comfortably as they be sure to,” claimed Abu Mohammad.

Al-Husseini, from the Chamber of Commerce, explained these limits, in the extended operate, purpose to “affect the demographic makeup of Jerusalem”.

If the closures continue to be in area for a prolonged period of time of time, he mentioned, “the scenario for Palestinians in Jerusalem will turn into like those in the West Financial institution.

“We will come to be inexpensive labour to the other side, equivalent to labourers in the West Lender who do the job in illegal settlements and inside of Israel,” he discussed.

“Over time, the Israeli identification will be enforced on us extra and more, and the demographic identification and makeup of Jerusalem will adjust. Businesses will shut, men and women will not even contemplate investing their money or opening factories, and there will be no improvement in the city,” explained al-Husseini.

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Sheikh Hasan Tawfiq said despite the higher charges and deficiency of income, opening his retail outlet is about significantly a lot more than organization [Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Al Jazeera]

In spite of the daily struggles that arrive with staying a Palestinian vendor in the Outdated Metropolis – notably considering that the war on Gaza began – many shop house owners say their awareness of Israel’s more than-arching targets usually means they are decided to resist them in what ever strategies they can.

Sheikh Hasan Tawfiq is a light, 80-yr-aged male who sits at the entrance to his tiny shop just metres absent from the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound. He sells Islamic goods these as prayer beads and rugs in the 50-calendar year-previous retail store which he owns alongside with his son.

“We open up and close just about every day with zero profits,” he informed Al Jazeera. “There are no holidaymakers and no worshippers. In truth, I’m dropping cash paying out for lease and electrical power preserving the store open up.”

Still, he suggests, opening the retailer is about a great deal extra than just small business.

“We open so that we can protect Al-Aqsa [from the Israeli occupation], we open up so that people today proceed to arrive to the Old City, so that it can stay alive,” stated Tawfiq. “We have to persevere. We have to be patient.”

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