Outside Damascus Gate near midnight, shops are bustling, sidewalks are thronged with people and street vendors are offering fresh-made crepes and corn-on-the-cob. Enormous bunches of helium balloons for sale, offering the likeness of Dora the Explorer and Spongebob Squarepants, would make it seem as if celebrations will proceed as usual for Id al-Fitr, the holiday that ends the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
- Someone Else's Simcha / Ending Ramadan
- Brother's Keepers: Waiting for Ahmad to Be Freed
- Operation Protective Edge, Day 21
- WATCH: Massive Explosions in Gaza as Hamas Leader's Home Destroyed
- Arabs Want to Stay. Does Israel Want Them?
- 10 Jews Charged With Attempted Lynch of Palestinians
- Abu Khdeir Murder Suspect: We Regretted It
- Palestinians Clash With E. J'lem Police
But look closer, and you’ll find that most of the young men and youths are wearing black T-shirts. They have messages like: “We are all Gaza,” “Our Id Is Our Liberation," "Gaza is under fire" and “What Id, when in every house, a shahid?”
Maher Jweilis, a young man who works in a family jewelry shop just off of Salah ed-Din Street, says that the crowds of shoppers are a fraction of what they were last year. A cluster of fresh-faced young men in their black shirts are shopping for 21-karat gold presents for their fiancées – Id is a good time to propose and many marriages are set to take place after the Islamic month of dawn-to-dusk abstinence – but none of them end of up buying.
Business had been bad, says Jweilis, and people are deeply depressed.
“We’re even buying fewer sweets this year, and if people buy anything now, they only buy some clothes for their children, to not deny them their holiday,” says Jweilis, who lives in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina.
Following the kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir in nearby Shoafat earlier this month – an act of revenge for the June murders of three Israeli teens in the West Bank – and the brutal beating of two young Palestinian men from Beit Hanina last Friday night by a group Israelis, many Palestinians don’t feel safe at night in Jerusalem anymore.
“Tonight we will close only around 1 A.M. and so it’s dangerous just getting home,” says Jweilis. “Any neighborhood that’s next to a Jewish one is not safe to walk in.”
The name Gaza is on nearly everyone’s lips and emblazoned across thousands of chests. And when you ask people about the coming three-day holiday, the answer often comes in the form of a number. Over 1,000 Palestinians killed by the IDF in Gaza and more than 6,000 wounded. Nine Palestinians killed by IDF forces in East Jerusalem and the West Bank during clashes that began with one of the biggest protest marches in years, from Ramallah to the Qalandiyah checkpoint, last Thursday.
Emotions skyrocketed Friday and Saturday as the terrible, time-worn cycle of clashes-funerals-clashes seemed to presage what may be the beginning of a third intifada.
In Ramallah, a man named Jawwad, who stood just behind the youths lobbing stones at Israeli forces this weekend, said he saw no alternative. “They are bombing and killing our people in Gaza every day, and now shooting live bullets at the demonstrators here. More deaths throughout the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza will only lead to a third intifada, because we’ve have had enough,” he said.
One might think the conflict in Gaza is far from here, and that the protests of the West Bank are somehow distant from the lives of East Jerusalemites, who as holders of Israeli residency cards are able to work in Israel and enjoy other benefits, such as health care.
But the awful events of the last month have somehow woven Jerusalem's Arabs – about a third of the city’s residents – more tightly into the broader Palestinian fabric. This began with the Shoafat riots after Abu Khdeir’s death, but continued throughout the month.
Palestinians complain bitterly about an Israeli policy instated this year, preventing any man under the age of 50 from going to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. Israeli officials say it is a security measure that Palestinians say only increases the sense of injustice.
“We were fed up even before this month,” says one woman stocking up on the most modest of Id al-Fitr gifts for her five sons – new socks and underwear – “but now our frustration is ready to explode.”
Even the start of the Id has not provided a reprieve. Mid-morning Monday, Israeli municipal authorities came to the neighborhood of Silwan to distribute home demolition orders, according to a Palestinian source. In nearby A-Tur, Palestinians held a rare protest on Id, marching with black flags.
With an Israel-Hamas humanitarian cease-fire hanging tenuously, one could try to be optimistic. If diplomacy works, perhaps the outrage elsewhere will taper off. But a less rosy reading indicates just the opposite. Something here may have reached breaking point.
Jamal Daoud, shopping with his wife and daughter, thinks perhaps it has. “When they finish with Gaza, they will come back to deal with the West Bank,” he says of the IDF. “There’s no joy here – we only mark the holiday because God told us to do it.”
His wife, fingering the fabric of a new jilbab, or Islamic dress, decides not to buy. It’s a bare-necessities kind of Id, one of toned-down family gatherings and of saving for what may be tough times to come.