Jerusalem Mall: Where Arabs and Jews Shop Together

Jerusalem's shopping centers are where Israelis and Palestinians are most likely to mix, a new report finds, but neither are pleased

The boundary between East and West in the capital is not as clear-cut as it once was. Increasing numbers of Palestinians from East Jerusalem are shopping and spending leisure time in the western part of town.

New research also reports that having Arabs in shopping malls upsets many Jews.

mall - Michal Fattal - Sept 22 2010
Michal Fattal

The research, soon to be published by the Floersheimer Institute for Policy Studies, was carried out by Marik Shtern, the son of the late MK Yuri Shtern. He did the research for Prof. Shlomo Hasson, studying integration in three locations: Malha Mall, the Alrov (Mamilla ) Mall and the Old City markets.

Gideon Avrahami, Malha's director, said 1,000 to 1,200 Palestinians come to the mall on any given day - about 3 percent of all visitors. But on Muslim holidays and Sundays, the figure rises to 25 percent.

Shtern said that 35 percent of the Jewish shoppers he interviewed at Malha expressed negative opinions about Arabs there. "If I would go to them, they'd butcher me," one woman said. One man said the mall had "gone down hill" with the Arabs there. Some said the Arab presence didn't bother them. Only one interviewee, a midwife from the Ramat Sharett neighborhood, said something positive: "It's excellent. They don't have a mall so they enjoy themselves here."

Shtern said lower middle-class Arab shoppers come to the mall for free cultural events and the upper middle-class come for products they cannot find in East Jerusalem or the West Bank.

Arab shoppers said the security checks at the entrances were an obstacle.

The three-year-old Mamilla Mall is probably the capital's most cosmopolitan shopping area, where Jews, Muslims, and tourists of all faiths mix in almost equal numbers. Unlike Malha, many shop workers are Palestinian, which heightens the sense coexistence. "This is a floating balloon, unconnected to anything," a cafe worker told Shtern.

Israeli visitors seem to perceive the place as less "Jewish"; only 22 percent of those interviewed expressed a negative opinion about the presence of Arab shoppers. As for Old City markets, Shtern concludes Jews and Arabs perceive the area as an arena of conflict. Many Jews, asked whether they felt safe there, responded with an ideological declaration like "I feel safe everywhere in the Land of Israel. But they also said the presence of Arabs negatively affected their sense of safety.

Palestinians, too, felt insecure. "I'm afraid of groups of Israelis, I'm elderly and can't speak Hebrew," one Christian woman said. Others said armed Israelis there bothered them.

Shtern said Arabs came to West Jerusalem to shop and for leisure time (and to a lesser extent, as residents, mainly in the northern neighborhoods ) from a lack of services in East Jerusalem. "The policy of aggressiveness and inequality is pushing is toward a binational reality," he said.