We live in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, nestled in amongst the consulates and old Palestinian elite families. It is part of East Jerusalem but not representative of East Jerusalem.
What I didn’t know, was that the word ‘jarrah’ in Arabic is derived from ‘healer’ and Sheikh Jarrah was the personal physician of Salah ad-Din. In the 12th Century Salah ad-Din’s army liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders and he has been considered a hero ever since. The area was named in honour of the Sheikh, whose tomb was built here in 1201.
Sheikh Jarrah is still a predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood, but locals are increasingly being pushed out of the area. There are many small Israeli settlements and land ownership is highly contentious. It is sadly very common for Palestinian families to be embroiled in legal challenges over the land and this can lead to their homes being demolished.
The establishment of many consulates in the area has also played its part in pushing up rent prices and stripping the area of some of it’s original character. This is the price of international support.
The flags of the different consulates are peppered around the neighbourhood. Walking up our street, the British consulate is prominent on one side, the EU office on the other. There is CCTV and security guards but it’s not a fortress.
Where the street bends is where the skip is. Waste management is one of the biggest contrasts between East and West Jerusalem, despite their being one city municipality. The skip is also known as the ‘cat hotel’ and there will always be 3, 5 or more cats sifting through the waste for scraps. These are no domestic kitties but an altogether rougher, hard-knocks breed of cat.
The streets don’t seem quite as dirty as they used to, and I can’t tell if I have got used to it or if the municipality is providing a better service. In any case, you always need to be wary of broken glass.
Walking around, it’s never too busy, but I’m still always conscious about what I’m wearing. My rule is no shorts and no t-shirts without sleeves. The rules are unspoken, but I feel disrespectful being too Western.
Towards the end of the road is St Joseph’s hospital. I find it very cruel to see parking tickets on the cars that have neatly parked on the kerb for lack of an alternative. Sometimes there are excited visitors carrying balloons and gifts for newborn babies and I like seeing them the best.
Rounding the corner, the Israeli police headquarters looms large in one direction, with huge blue and white flags billowing in the breeze. I’ve still only gone about 200m from home but the mood has changed. Cars zoom along the busy road which divides East and West Jerusalem and the familiar ting, ting of the tram sounds out as it hurtles past.
I turn down the hill to stay in Sheikh Jarrah. Down past the old couple who run the ka’ak stall on the corner of Mujir Ad-Din street. Down past the Ambassador hotel where business meetings are held over a coffee and something stronger as the sun goes down. Down past Abu Rimon’s corner shop on the left and Sunbula, the lovely little Palestinian fairtrade shop on the right.
I sit on the benches by the roundabout, underneath the pink cascade of colour from the bourgainvillea flowers. My kids eat ice lollies and we watch the traffic go past as we take a pause from the hot sun.
A man stops his moped in the middle of the roundabout to make a phone call. The cars swerve around him but nobody beeps. They are used to this. It’s East Jerusalem after all and the rules are a bit looser here.