Ramadan brings business buzz to Jerusalem's Old City
The falafel shop at the center of the Old City of Jerusalem's busiest junction is considered by many to be the best in the city.

But during Ramadan, the famed Al-Hedmi shop stops selling sandwiches and instead makes the pancake casings for the cheese- or nut-stuffed Qatayif dessert, popular during the Muslim fasting month.

The switch from falafel -- a savory patty made of fried chickpeas -- to sweets is only one sign of a new business life that thrives during Ramadan; with coffee houses instead selling bottles of lemonade and fresh juice and Palestinian youths selling crepes smothered in chocolate, candy floss and popcorn to children after the fast is broken.

Naeem Hashim, 51, usually sells rings of bread known as Kaek. But in Ramadan, he spends the day at his stone oven rolling out and baking a thin sesame seed-topped biscuit called Barazek, which he only sells during the holy month.

"Ramadan is the best month of the year. There's trade and there is faith, prayer and worship," says Hashim.

He goes on to note, however, that the nine-month wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence that began last October has impacted business this year.

"[This year] isn't like other years. The years before were better," he laments. "It's because of what has happened recently; it has affected all of Jerusalem."

Others in the Old City agree, saying that, while it is still busier than usual, Ramadan used to bring masses of people thronging through the city’s famed Damascus Gate in the Muslim Quarter towards the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest site.

The thinner crowds this year, however, have not stopped many Palestinians from taking the opportunity afforded by Ramadan to make a temporary career change.

Ishaq Tourani, 65, usually does odd jobs in construction. But in Ramadan, he stations himself at a central market during the day and on the road to Al-Aqsa during busy nighttime prayers.

He sells Naoumeh, a sweet mixture of sugar and powdered chickpeas, which children buy in small paper bags bought for a couple Israeli shekels.

"I inherited this job from my father," says Tourani. "My family has been doing this for more than 100 years. Naoumeh is known among Palestinian residents of Jerusalem as a favored Ramadan sweet."

Ashraf Halawani works as a driver for most of the year. But in Ramadan, he, too, takes up a business with deep family roots.

"I have been working in this field since I was eight years old; I inherited the profession from my father. My father was the first person to make Carob [a kind of drink] in Jerusalem," said Halawani.

Halawani is busy on the phone while his three-man team in the Bab Hutta neighborhood work diligently in a tiny workshop, where they mix drinks -- of carob, lemon, tamarind and almond -- and pack them into plastic bags to be sold in busier parts of the city.

It is not only trade that transforms Jerusalem during Ramadan; instead of shops closing after sunset, the city is abuzz with people drinking coffee, smoking water pipes (argila) and eating sweets after performing nighttime prayers.

Thursday nights, before weekly Friday prayers at Al-Aqsa, are particularly busy, with various entertainments put on for children outside the Damascus Gate.

Inside the city's covered markets, which are mostly shuttered by nightfall, the Basta Theater takes advantage of Jerusalem's increased pedestrian traffic by hosting weekly shows combining children's entertainment with lighthearted political satire.

"We're reviving traditional Arabic theater in the city and giving it a contemporary style... people don't go to the theater, so we’re going to the people," says theatre organizer and actor Hossam Ghosheh.

The group began performing shows last December, but later decided to organize weekly events during Ramadan -- although these have not been welcomed by the Israeli settlers who have taken up residence nearby and the shows are frequently broken up by Israeli police.

"This is Jerusalem. It's a holy city, so people come to it," says Ghosheh. "This is when they come out of the Taraweeh [Ramadan evening] prayer, have tea and come to see some theatre."

The theater they perform, Ghosheh adds, "is meant to show a part of the city’s culture and say: ‘Whatever the [Israeli] occupation is doing, they’ll never occupy our imaginations’."
Last Modified: 2016-07-01 14:44:52
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