• 26 آب 2020
  • مقابلة خاصة



By : Dr. Ali Qleibo



To be is difficult. To be a Jerusalemite is extremely difficult.

Throughout time Al Quds el Sheriff stands out as the Holy City. The stones of Jerusalem's edifices are weighed down with religious symbolism. From any rooftop by turning my head around I feel submerged by Christian and Moslem references that instead of being a source of peace, have brought endless conflict and suffering to the Jerusalemites and that left an indelible scar shaping our identity.

To the Palestinians the Jerusalemite is enigmatic: he/she projects an image that is inconsistent with his/her feelings. Cosmopolitan and at ease in the world at large nevertheless we remain staunch conservatives at heart. Jerusalemites are invariably misconstrued by fellow Palestinians as high strung, stubborn, overly sensitive, highly volatile, irritable and aloof. Indeed we are proud and our sense of dignity and personal integrity takes priority over any other pragmatic consideration which unwittingly, further distorts our fragile and vulnerable nature. To the outsiders we appear cold, arrogant and elitist.  In fact we are spontaneous, unpretentious, sentimental and extremely emotional. Our signs are clear for us.  Once animated the pitch and tone of our voice rise high and are accompanied by dramatic gesticulations; our theatrical social rituals express our intimacy. We are comforted by each other's company. With outsiders we become susceptible to systemic misunderstanding, our signs are misinterpreted. We have to expend a great effort to be understood: and our pride makes us inflexible; we do not conform in order to pass. Homeless abroad and estranged even in our own home town we are overcome with nostalgia for our lost city. The fleeting feeling of contentment, of tranquility and inner peace is tinged with sadness. Abroad, or surrounded by non Jerusalemites, physically and emotionally wearied; our existence becomes almost senseless, our life futile.

 Melancholy envelops our existence.

Jerusalemites type cast and brand each other. After hundreds of years in the same city the individuals from each family become a type representing the general traits that identify the different families; certain facial features, a specific gait, a typical hand gesture, a manner of speech and a certain sense of humour. One recognizes others, not necessarily as individuals with personal names, but as representatives of general family types, a Qutob, a Qleibo, a Jaouni, a Husseini, a Quttaineh, a Jarallah, a Qazmi, Nuseiheh, a Nashashibi, an Alamy, a Dijani or a Shihabi

Only in Jerusalem and with fellow Jerusalemites we experience that deep mysterious sense of joy produced by the feeling of belonging. Here infinite reflections of oneself reverberate in the mirror image of the others: We belong to the same place and understand each other's subtlest nuances. We also know each others mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, and family history. The various customs, institutions and characteristics of our city furnish endless anecdotal narratives that further cement our sense of commonality. Zalatimo’s famed mutabbaq pastry, Ja’far’s kinafeh, Izhiman’s aromatic freshly ground coffee, el zalabiah vendor in Suq el Bazaar, Abu Shukri’s hummos flavor our memories of the city and trigger memories of the customary sweets that accompany all phases of our social life

The social structure of Jerusalem is hierarchical. One of the most distinguishing features of Jerusalem, differentiating it from other Palestinian cities, is its local aristocracy, the sheriffs. The aristocracy is composed of three classes, those descendant from the family of the prophet Mohammed e.g. the Husseini's, those descendant of the comrades of the prophet, the sahabeh, like the Nuseibeh family, and those of scientists, ulama, (theologians) like the Alami, el-Khalily and the military mujahideen like the Jarallah and Qutob families or extremely old local families like the Dijanis. It must be remembered that most Palestinian families have fragmented into smaller branches, and that many of these branches assumed new family names, in the nineteenth century. ….

Until the early twenties, before the massive influx of the European Jewish immigrants, both Christians and Jews were an ethnic minority. Whereas the Christian indigenous population that was Greek Orthodox, through the centuries, maintained its own class structure and social position deferred to by the Moslems, the Jewish community because of the transience of its members was less rooted. The Christian population lived within the Christian Quarter in and around the different monasteries and most were provided with food and lodging by the church to which they belonged be it Assyrian, Armenian, Coptic, Greek Orthodox, Russian or Catholic. The prosperity that accompanied the British Mandate booming economy that provided great opportunities for building contractors, high rents for British officials, high salaries for government employees helped finance a cosmopolitan consumer life style which western education and curriculum in the missionary nineteenth century school had trained its students of a certain Christian and Moslem class to enjoy. Within the overall context of the Crimean War and the Ottoman Concessions to the Western European Allies the Christian community and in coordination with the respective churches they belonged to further developed their own prestige and social hierarchy as either “Les Bonnes Catholiques” the good Catholics close to the Latin Patriarchate and French and/or Italian Consulates, Anglicans attached to the Anglican Church and the British Consulate, and the traditional Greek Orthodox local elite attached to the Greek Patriarchate and the Greek Consulate…

Jerusalemite sense of puritan frugality is construed by other Palestinians as stingy and miserly. Our life style is simple and austere. Though we cherish bodily comfort yet our homes, furniture, clothes and manners are sparse. We avoid ceremonious and conspicuous display of wealth and power as practiced by other Palestinians. In contrast Jerusalem is distinguished by its holiness and its patrician families, affiliated with various religious functions, have intermarried over the past eight centuries. Every member of these families knows his status without the need to flaunt it through pompous display of wealth. Ironically, our pious frugality and sense of religious austerity is the source of derision by others.

A Jerusalemite is self controlled itqeel, sober and rational. The female is mah’ubeh feared and respected. Liberal, cosmopolitan and cultured from early in the twentieth century she became professional. …yet she is fearsome, mah’yubeh…The Jerusalemite lady knows how to command respect, intimidate and keep men at a distance…...Such characters, el bint el mah’yubeh who fights for her rights and commands respect is common in Jerusalem…Often Jerusalemite ladies inherit the responsibilities of awqaf administration. The image is that of seriousness’ a no nonsense lady that does not smile or joke or banter. Dressed elegantly but modestly she does not wear a veil. Her sutrah, her veil that keeps men at a distance lies in her impeccable image. It is her class. She is always serious, attentive, on guard, reticent and reserved. The anecdote of my friend, from a leading Jerusalem family comes to mind. She was awarded a medal from Arafat for her cultural contributions… To the surprise of the audience Arafat, who was standing on stage, gave her the medal but without the usual kiss. She said, “He was about to but from my eyes, looks, dress and demeanor he knew to keep the distance…” El bint el qudsyyeh (a Jerusalemite female) is famed for her hebeh, she commands respect and keeps men even the National Symbol at a distance.

Jerusalemites have style.

Jerusalemites navigate their way socially in a disengaged deliberate but courteous manner. Laughing aloud, dancing and singing are considered aib, shameful expressions of private emotional states that should never become public. In weddings Jerusalemites watch others dancing but they do not move from their chairs. Amidst the merriment and mirthful frolic they maintain a stoic composure. Other Palestinians poke fun at us by saying that should a Jerusalemite finally join in the festive mood it would be expressed only in the gentle tapping of the foot to the rhythm of the music. Such puritanism is misunderstood by other Palestinians who consider us “cold”, "gloomy" and "haughty," "introvert" and "miserly" which is not the case; for we are hospitable without excessive indulgence and we welcome and open our homes and hearts to friendships.

Genuine Jerusalemites tend to be exclusive, pompous and elitist when it comes to pedigree of fellow Jerusalemites. They distinguish between authentic and inauthentic i.e. false Jerusalemites. A non genuine-Jerusalemite is considered an outsider despite the fact that his parents and grandparents for generations were lived within the walls of the city. One major category of differentiation between a genuine and non genuine Jerusalemites is the fact that an authentic Jerusalemite is a beneficiary of Moslem endowments, waqf. In this respect it must be remembered that the majority of the houses, cafees, hammams and shops of the Old City are ancient family endowments inherited and entrusted to the ministry of awqaf for their administration, maintenance, rent, and the distribution of the revenues among the heirs. Since endowed properties cannot be sold, exchanged or altered they become concrete objective archives of Jerusalem’s social history providing the city’s social registry.

Moreover Jerusalemites stereotype each other according to the living quarters they originally come from. For what a difference between one from Bab Huttah Quarter, El Saadieh quarter, El Wadd and those families that had moved outside the walls two hundred years ago who come from Herod’s Gate , Karm el Sheick, Baq’ah, Katamon, or Sheick Jarrah. Whereas those from eighteenth and nineteenth century suburbs are invariably cosmopolitan and liberal those from inside the walls remain ethnic with different mind sets and attitudes that typifies them even in exile.

El-niswan shabakeh (women form the network of social relationships) is a common saying in Jerusalem. Most of the Jerusalemites have shares, even if they amount only to ten square centimeters, in each other's family endowments and are consequentially beneficiaries of the revenue, albeit a negligible sum. For most Jerusalemites are related to each other through centuries of intermarriage. The degree of kinship and its details are firmly established in the archival “haser irth”, certificate of inheritance. These documents specify the family interconnections and are more inclusive documents establishing the history of the Jerusalem families in conjunction with the more the rarefied male centred patriarchal family trees.

The revenues from the Moslem-run trust funds, awqaf, and on which Jerusalemites depended until recently are varied. The revenue could consist of a certain amount of bread. This is what my father always received, as a matter of principle, from his share of the el-Khalily waqf. T'kiyyet es-Sultan distributed cooked food, a daily meal that consisted of boiled wheat and whole wheat bread. Mother describes the stew as "plain," but once it arrives home -in zinc plated copper pots- clarified butter, almonds, walnuts and honey are added to the steaming hot "porridge" which, and this is its secret, is boiled overnight over a very low flame.

Money was another form of income. Each adult in accordance with his position in a carefully and legally drawn out chart, received his/her share of the income produced by renting the various shops, bath houses, cafés  or houses in the old city or the sale of the olives, or the oil, etc. in the orchards and their estates from the Ayyubide, Mamluke and Ottoman periods.

The negative image of the Jerusalemite as an indolent Pasha or Effendi is rooted in his traditional economic status of dependency on either rich gifts from the Ottoman Sultan and on his inheritances, el wirtheh. For centuries the Jerusalemites survived as beneficiaries’ dependant for their sustenance on their inherited shares from el-awqaf bequeathed to them by their illustrious ancestors. Their income was supplemented by new private properties, by their own work as merchants, or by keeping the traditional honorary positions in the custodianship of the Christian and Moslem Holy places, as was the case with the Ansari family in relation to the el-Haram es-Sharif, the Nuseibeh in relation to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Alamy in relation to el-Khanqah el Salahieh Mosque. With the 1948 disaster, the loss of the greater part of Palestine and the ensuing destruction and division of Jerusalem, a way of life came to an abrupt end. While the income generating estates and properties were lost, the prestige and mannerisms stayed.

Jerusalem was never a booming commercial center. Al Quds el-Sheriff, as the holy city of Islam, had always a special place in the heart of the Moslem world. Its families vied and competed with each other to seek for favours from the various sultans and princes. For centuries Jerusalemites remained dependent on subsidies from Istanbul, the capital. But these were sporadic gifts at intermittent intervals limited to the few that could access Topkapi palace. The majority who were devout Moslems, murabeteen, lived off the various charities such as Khasqi Sultan, the biggest Ottoman public kitchen. This extreme devotion coupled with puritan frugality became proverbial, "the one who chooses to live in Jerusalem or Hebron has chosen the life of frugality" (illy bi yuskun bi! 'uds wil Khali!, bi yirdah bil 'alil).  My generation grew up in an atmosphere still saturated with this puritan frugality. Our austerity was justified through the commonly held adage, in beautifully calligraphy and hanging framed all over the city in houses and shops alike, “inner and deep satisfaction with one's lot is an inexhaustible treasure" (el Qana'atu kanzon la yafna).

Our fathers and grandfathers differed with their values, ambitions and ethics from my generation. They were hamidy. Hamidy refers to those who were born and grew up in the era of the last Turkish Sultan Abd-el-Hamid. Everything in my father and his generation was different, even his handwriting was like the Arabic calligraphy that one sees in the old Ottoman manuscripts. He tried his best to plant in us the seeds of virtue as his generation understood the concept. But his values seemed bizarre, and we used to think hamidy people were naive. Hankering after money, seeking fame, or trying to attract attention to oneself, glamour, was frowned upon.

My father always repeated that his only request of God was sutrah, i.e. having just enough not to need anyone's charity, and thereby keeping one’s pride and sense of dignity. We would argue that life is much more than sutrah. My sister and I wanted a life style that exceeds the parameters set by sutrah. He would answer that one should be content with what one has, for the sense of inner satisfaction is a treasure that is never exhausted, al-qana'atu kanzon la yafna.

The Jerusalemite effendi hamidy approach to life was to a great extent an ascetic analytical contemplative view that finds its best expression in the Turkish and Persian miniature art form. In these miniatures the nineteenth century ideal man is presented in a meditative mood holding a book in one hand and a rose whose aroma he is sniffing in the other. The sword dangles, a beautiful curving perpendicular line, suspended from an equally elegant, if much thinner line that turns around his waist suggesting a belt. For the hamidies were highly aware of and sensitive to beauty. The disposition to enjoy all that is refined and artistic sababah, included the delight in the anecdote, music, poetry, calligraphy, nature in short love for everything that is beautiful and enchanting.

Friday family reunions were a source of great pleasure. I still recall his beautiful recitations of the Qur'an in grandmother's company in our weekly visit to her. Each Friday we would spend the day with her and only after the Qur'an was recited would dad move to sing and play the music and songs of Abd el-Wahab and Sayyed Darwish. In addition to his excellence in playing the oud and piano he had a very beautiful voice, but he would never consider using art as a profession from which to earn an income for in their view artists held a low social esteem. His understanding of ridha and sutrah, together with his satisfaction with his life and the circle of close friends and family made him avoid public exposure.

His words still echo in my ears, el ridha kheir min as sa'adeh, making a choice to accept and believing in this choice, the state of reda, acceptance, is better than transient happiness, as sa'adch whose object is ever shifting.

Al Quds el Sherif, The Noble Holy City, has a unique status. The prophets journeyed throughout history to our city. In our tradition Al Isra’ wal Mi’raj the Nocturnal Journey on the twenty-seventh of the Moslem month of Rajab stands out. Prophet Mohammed’s visit to Jerusalem and ascension and meeting with God came as a seal of its holiness and its affirmation as Moslem. The religious occasions leilat el-Qadr and Leilat al Isra' wal Mi'raj, the night of Mohammed's nocturnal journey to Jerusalem assumed great importance. These were holidays specific to Jerusalem and were celebrated in the grounds of el-Aqsa mosque in the night.

In the two holy nights my maternal uncles would take us to the Dome of the Rock.

Leilat el Qader was especially joyous. Marking the revelation of the Quran it is believed that the heavens open and the lucky are granted their wishes. Along the way to el Haram we would pass by young boys and girls carrying trays of ka'ek and ma'mool to and from the neighborhood ovens. It would be the last three of Ramadan and preparations for the Id es-Sghir, the little feast, celebrating the end of the fasting, were underway. The smell of the burning olive trunks with which public ovens were heated, the delicate aroma of the baked pastries spiced with frankincense, under the dark blue sky were magical moments.


Ottoman culture and values have left an indelible stamp on our manners. The deferential hand kiss of the father, mother, uncles and aunts continues… Many customs and institutions of Jerusalem has assumed iconic status: the visits to the cemetery after the morning prayers of the major two holidays, the sending of Zalatimo mutabaq pastry to congratulate a cousin for his son’s return or his daughter’s engagement, the family lunch reunions with Jafar’s kinafah  or halawet smeed (semolina with goat cheese and pine nuts) as desert, The seasonal customary fuss over the preparation of the special apricot, quince,  and bitter orange jam to join the stocked up pantry lined with jars of white goat cheese, green pickled olives, olive oil, yellow spiced clarified butter, red lentils, rice, sugar and flour in brown burlap bags still survive….. The delight with the early spring fresh grape leaves and the preparation of lahmeh a waraq, eaten only by Jerusalemites continues… The joy in seasonal sojourns in nature in the various family estates in Jericho and el Oja in winter, Ein Karem and Alonia in spring and Gazza and the sea in the summer is remembered fondly….. Each family has its own rhythm, its own flavor to its family reunions, its Fridays, estates and farm lands to visit …

In two successive defeats, the Nakbeh in 1948 and in the Six Day War, we lost the sovereignty of our city. In the Nakbeh we lost to the Israelis our western suburbs, Katamon, Talpiot, Baq’a, Jaffa road, Musrarah, El-Talbieh... Following the Six Day War East Jerusalem was annexed to Israel and we became overnight alien residents with limited rights. The Israeli policy of transfer of the Jerusalemites began immediately with the eviction and destruction of the endowments west of el Aqsa Mosque to clear the space for the construction of a Jewish residential neighborhood. The ongoing Israeli territorial expansion into East Jerusalem and the strategic manipulation of city’s demography are implemented by a craftily designed bureaucratic strategy that threatens our own survival on our mother land.

To be Palestinian is difficult. To be a Jerusalemite is extremely difficult. Most of us live in a forced exile deprived of the hope of ever returning home. The few Jerusalemites that survive are hostage to the Israelis and subject to innumerable discriminatory measures calculated to make our life extremely difficult. We live in a permanent state of anxiety; our life over the past forty years has been that of destitution and estrangement.   We suffer to see our properties, shops, streets in Katamon or Talbiyeh….in fact all over West Jerusalem inhabited and enjoyed by our enemy. I know a few who refuse to reach beyond Jaffa Gate. The grief of the lost Palestine remains an open wound in Al- Quds.

Jerusalem drowns in history. Time changes and rearranges…. People come and go. Nothing remains fixed... Here, there and everywhere whenever Jerusalemites meet a sense of common bond unites us. Our personal identities are rooted in the collective memories of implicitly shared narratives which shroud our beloved city with a veil of nostalgic melancholy.