Saturday in the Arab Market, Jerusalem

We've been in Israel for 1 week and have arrived in Jerusalem. This is a destination I've known about and had a great desire to visit since I was a teenager. The only problem is that it is a Saturday in Israel, the Jewish Sabbath. I didn't have a complete understanding of the extent to which Jewish commerce comes to a halt on the weekend. Our guide, Shalom, has left to be with his family as is apparently the custom and way of life in this Jewish state. So what does one do on the weekend in Jerusalem? You go to the Arab Market which is quite alive and is something to see!

Vendor in the Arab Market

Vendor in the Arab Market

Since the Six Day War in 1967 in which Israeli forces captured the Old City along with the remainder of East Jerusalem, the Israeli government has controlled this entire area. The Old City is divided into 4 uneven quadrants that include the Muslim Quarter, the Christian Quarter, the Jewish Quarter and the Armenian Quarter. Today is a perfect day to check out the Arab Market (Souk) that sprawls across the Christian and Muslim Quarters.

We enter the Arab Market in the Old City through the Jaffa Gate. My first impression is that this is a mass of humanity with people scurrying around in all different directions. There is everything here from stalls selling Middle Eastern tourist tchotchkes to venerable shops that sell the necessities of life to the residents of this area. The Arab Souk has been a vibrant mercantile heart of Jerusalem from the time of the Ottomans through contemporary times in the Old City. This place is old - operating continuously since it was built by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1538.

While hordes of people are seen haggling with pushy merchants in the individual stalls, I see many patrons walk away to try their luck at getting a better deal next door. Part of the intrigue of the market is watching the quibbling over price between the customers and proprietors. I've seen this kind of thing all over the world. What a scene!

I make my way down the yellow stone passageways and alleys of this ancient marketplace where I attempt to take photos. The challenge for me is to capture candid pictures in the brief moments when I'm not getting pushed and bumped by the multitudes of consumers.

As I stand there I see a young Israeli carrying fresh baked bread on his head while he makes his way through the shadowy streets of the market.

This shopkeeper appears quite pensive as I capture his photo. Isn't it a little difficult to concentrate with this mass of humanity flying by? His reverie intrigues me.

As time passes quickly I become consumed by the sites and smells of carts of fresh pomegranates, tomatoes, limes, lemons, dates and freshly baked breads. I realize that I'm hungry and purchase a falafel sandwich which I eat in a corner as I watch the show. I hear the sounds of heavy chips on shesh besh boards playing backgammon a short distance to my right. They are apparently arguing in Arabic over who has won.

As I reach my saturation level and start to experience sensory overload, I head towards the Damascus gate to exit the Souk. I see two Arab women wearing traditional head scarves known as keffiyeh as they pass me by. 

Outside the Damascus Gate I sit and think about the demographic complexity of what I have just seen. I hadn't realized that in Jerusalem, Arabs outnumber Jews by a ratio of nine to one. Right now things look very peaceful to me in this troubled part of the world. However, I know that circumstances can change at any time.