A new book delves into the multi-layered identity of Jerusalem’s historic Old City

Special Matthew Teller’s ‘Nine Quarters of Jerusalem: A New Biography of the Old City’ was published this year by Profile Books. (Supplied)
Matthew Teller’s ‘Nine Quarters of Jerusalem: A New Biography of the Old City’ was published this year by Profile Books. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 April 2022

A new book delves into the multi-layered identity of Jerusalem’s historic Old City

A new book delves into the multi-layered identity of Jerusalem’s historic Old City
  • British author and journalist Matthew Teller sets out to humanize the people who live and work in the Old City
  • “Nine Quarters of Jerusalem: A New Biography of the Old City” is published by Profile Books, 2022 

AMMAN: The division of the Old City of Jerusalem into four uneven quarters — the ostensible source of comparisons between the tiny Armenian sector or even the Jewish and Christian areas and the city’s centuries-old Muslim heritage — has long stoked controversy, and often the sort of violence that erupted on Friday.

Israeli security forces entered Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem before dawn as thousands of Palestinians were gathered for prayers, setting off clashes that left at least 135 Palestinians wounded.

To debunk the perceived myths and false narratives used to justify this carve-up, and the notion that these communities are somehow evenly weighted, a new 400-page book by British author and journalist Matthew Teller, “Nine Quarters of Jerusalem: A New Biography of the Old City,” sets out to unpack its true, multi-layered identity.

A veteran travel journalist who has written for the BBC and produced several radio documentaries, Teller excels in piecing together the old and the new, religion and politics, money and family, combining academic research with powerful human stories.




Tourists on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem’s Old City and the Dome of the Rock earlier this year. (AFP)

In his colorful style, he brings the city and its occupants to life, taking readers on a breathtaking journey through winding streets and historic archways, coaxing a vivid narrative from every niche and every stone.

In the process, Teller does not merely retell the chronology of the city, he leads his readers into the heart of the cultural complexities, human dramas, hidden conflicts and personal rivalries that shaped the destiny of the Old City and its occupants.

Revealing a much greater cultural and ethnic diversity than the four quarters designation might suggest, Teller introduces his readers to a cast of characters that includes African Muslims, Syrian artisans, Palestinian archaeologists, members of the Coptic community, an Armenian pop star and the caretakers of a shrine dedicated to a Sufi saint from India.

“Nine Quarters of Jerusalem” also reflects Teller’s own 40-year relationship with the city. Although he was not born there, his decades of reporting on the wider region have informed his perspective on Jerusalem and its people.




Amid the backdrop of new violence erupting in the Old City, the new book reveals Jerusalem’s under-reported cultural and ethnic diversity. (AFP)

His journalistic neutrality means he allows the historical facts to speak for themselves. As he states in the prologue, his aim was to ensure his book has the right kind of balance — not a seesawing balancing of two equal sides, but rather a true reflection of the reality for all of the city’s inhabitants, which is so often neglected in Western and Israeli narratives.

“Palestinians of Jerusalem have a voice but we in the West have not been listening,” Teller told Arab News.

One incident in particular that Teller highlights is the destruction of Jerusalem’s Moroccan quarter, which happened just three days after the 1967 war. Until then this Maghrebi area of the Old City had stood the test of time for about 700 years.

INTERVIEW

‘The Palestinians of Jerusalem have a voice’

When British journalist Matthew Teller set out to write “Nine Quarters of Jerusalem,” he wanted to portray the Old City and its inhabitants as they truly were and are — not as those with a particular political agenda would like them to appear. “I wanted to write a book about the people,” he told Arab News. “There are 35,000 people who live in the Old City of Jerusalem. About 90 percent of them are Arab Palestinians, yet we rarely hear their point of view.” Teller said he wants to correct “a historic imbalance.”

“The Palestinians of Jerusalem have a voice but we in the West haven’t been listening,” he said. The role of his book is to “amplify” their voices, he explained, adding: “I want to give those voices a boost and to humanize the people that live and work in the Old City.” Many tourists and pilgrims who visit the Old City and explore its picture-postcard beauty miss out on what is really important, said Teller: “The people of Jerusalem are much more important than the stones.” Jerusalem captivated the writer from a young age. He first visited the Old City during a family holiday in 1980, when he was just 11 years old. It was an experience he describes as “unforgettable” and it sparked a life-long love of the Middle East and traveling the world.

But what inspired him to put pen to paper? “I wrote this book for people like my friend Raed Saadeh, owner of the Jerusalem Hotel, whose ideas and visions inspired me to write it,” Teller said. “Rather than setting stories that are Jewish against an equal number of stories that are from or about everybody else, I have instead redistributed my time, energy and resources to favor those who begin less advantaged. Rather than amplifying the already amplified, I have chosen to amplify the unlistened-to.” Indeed, Teller’s approach is to reject the historical simplification of the Old City as an entity composed of four communal quarters.

“Jerusalem has many more sides than two, and many more quarters than the four that appear on its maps,” he said. “It is completely misguided to reduce a place as complex and diverse as Jerusalem to two sides. There are more than two sides and there are more than four quarters. The city has a much more complicated set of layers to it.” Teller hopes Jerusalem’s Palestinians will recognize their authentic voice in his book. “If that happens, then I am satisfied,” he said. But however much as he adores Jerusalem, he said he has been careful not to try to speak on behalf of the city’s inhabitants. “Jerusalem is not my city and never will be,” he explained.

“That said, there has hardly been a year in my life in which it has not played a part.” Teller also hopes his book will challenge some of the Western misconceptions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict being a black-and-white issue. “It is important that we, as Western onlookers, admit that those two sides — and, especially, representations of their being irreconcilable — are a convenient fiction for the disengaged or the lazy,” he said. “Any balance that may result from treating them equally can never be equitable because they do not start as equals.”

“On June 10, after dark, Israeli soldiers stormed through the neighborhood, shouting and banging on doors. Residents were given two hours — or, in some reports, three, others say only 15 minutes — to leave their homes,” Teller writes.

“That same night, around 11 p.m., men with sledgehammers went in first. Bulldozers followed, working through the night and into the next day. ‘In two days, it was done — finished, clean,’ said Jerusalem’s Israeli mayor, infamously.

“After the area had been leveled, it was discovered that a woman had been killed in the rubble of her home. One source names her as Rasmiyyah Ali Tabaki. Maysoon Al-Maslohi — caretaker of Zawiya Al-Magharba, one of the very few buildings that survived the 1967 destruction — tells me she was called Amina, and that she died because she was deaf and so did not hear the warning calls.




A map of the Old City. (Supplied)

“Some 32 years later an Israeli army engineer who oversaw the operation spoke of having found several ‘Arab corpses’ that night, some of which, he says, were simply bulldozed into the dirt in front of the Wall. Presumably, they lie there still, trodden by the observant.”

Teller also challenges the unflattering narratives from Israeli sources relating to Jordan’s 19-year control of Jerusalem, such as the unproven claim that the Jordanians erected a toilet against the Western Wall. Instead, Teller credits the Hashemites for their patronage of the city’s holy sites through the Jerusalem waqf.

“Nine Quarters of Jerusalem” is a remarkable book in that it reads like dramatic fiction, yet the detailed notes, photos, bibliographies, references and index are worthy of a doctorate thesis that should certainly feature on any academic reading list about Jerusalem’s complex past.


Iranian state media: Construction begins on nuclear plant

Iranian state media: Construction begins on nuclear plant
Updated 28 sec ago

Iranian state media: Construction begins on nuclear plant

Iranian state media: Construction begins on nuclear plant
CAIRO: Iran on Saturday began construction on a new nuclear power plant in the country’s southwest, Iranian state TV announced, amid tensions with the US over sweeping sanctions imposed after Washington pulled out of the Islamic Republic’s nuclear deal with world powers.
The announcement also comes as Iran has been rocked by nationwide anti-government protests that began after the death of a young woman in police custody and have challenged the country’s theocratic government.
The new 300-megawatt plant, known as Karoon, will take eight years to build and cost around $2 billion, the country’s state television and radio agency reported. The plant will be located in Iran’s oil-rich Khuzestan province, near its western border with Iraq, it said.
The construction site’s inauguration ceremony was attended by Mohammed Eslami, head of Iran’s civilian Atomic Energy Organization, who first unveiled construction plans for Karoon in April.
Iran has one nuclear power plant at its southern port of Bushehr that went online in 2011 with help from Russia, but also several underground nuclear facilities.
The announcement of Karoon’s construction came less than two weeks after Iran announced it had begun producing enriched uranium at 60 percent purity at the country’s underground Fordo nuclear facility. The move is seen as a significant addition to the country’s nuclear program.
Enrichment to 60 percent purity is one short, technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90 percent. Non-proliferation experts have warned in recent months that Iran now has enough 60 percent-enriched uranium to reprocess into fuel for at least one nuclear bomb.
The move was condemned by Germany, France and Britain, the three Western European nations that remain in the Iran nuclear deal. Recent attempts to revive Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal, which eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, have stalled.
Since September, Iran has been roiled by nationwide protests that have come to mark one of the greatest challenges to its theocracy since the chaotic years after its 1979 Islamic Revolution. The protests were sparked when Mahsa Amini, 22, died in custody on Sept. 16, three days after her arrest by Iran’s morality police for violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women. Iran’s government insists Amini was not mistreated, but her family says her body showed bruises and other signs of beating after she was detained
In a statement issued by Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency on Saturday, the country’s national security council announced that some 200 people have been killed during the protests, the body’s first official word on the casualties. Last week, Iranian Gen. Amir Ali Hajjizadeh tallied the death toll at more than 300.
The contradictory tolls are lower than the toll reported by Human Rights Activists in Iran, a US-based organization that has been closely monitoring the protest since the outbreak. In its most recent update, the group says that 469 people have been killed and 18,210 others detained in the protests and the violent security force crackdown that followed.
The United States unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal — formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA — in 2018, under then-President Donald Trump. It reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to start backing away from the deal’s terms. Iran has long denied ever seeking nuclear weapons, insisting its nuclear program is peaceful.

Sweden extradites outlawed PKK member to Turkiye: report

Sweden extradites outlawed PKK member to Turkiye: report
Updated 03 December 2022

Sweden extradites outlawed PKK member to Turkiye: report

Sweden extradites outlawed PKK member to Turkiye: report
  • Mahmut Tat, who was sentenced to six years and 10 months in jail for PKK membership in Turkiye, fled to Sweden in 2015

ISTANBUL : Sweden has extradited a convicted member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) to Turkiye as Ankara presses Stockholm for further steps in return for its membership in NATO, state media reported on Saturday.
Mahmut Tat, who was sentenced to six years and 10 months in jail for PKK membership in Turkiye, fled to Sweden in 2015 but his asylum request was rejected.
Tat arrived in Istanbul on Friday night having been detained by Swedish police, the Anadolu news agency reported.
He was taken by Turkish police soon after arriving at Istanbul airport and referred to court on Saturday, the private NTV broadcaster reported.
Turkiye has accused Finland and Sweden in particular of providing a safe haven for outlawed Kurdish groups it deems “terrorists,” and held back on ratifying their NATO bids despite an agreement in Madrid in June.
Finland and Sweden dropped decades of military non-alignment and sought to join NATO in May, after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The decision requires a consensus within the US-led defense alliance, but only Turkiye and Hungary are yet to ratify their membership.
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held trilateral talks with his Swedish and Finnish counterparts on the margins of a NATO meeting in Bucharest this week.
“The statements (coming out of Sweden) are good, the determination is good but we need to see concrete steps,” Cavusoglu said.
Ankara has said it expects Stockholm to take action on issues including the extradition of criminals and freezing of terror assets.


Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini
Updated 03 December 2022

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini

Conservative women join Iran protests for Amini
  • Canada slaps more sanctions on regime

JEDDAH: Black-clad women in Iran’s Sistan-Baluchistan province on Friday joined nationwide protests sparked by Mahsa Amini’s death.

Online videos showed dozens of women on the streets of the provincial capital Zahedan holding banners that declared “Woman, life, freedom” — one of the main slogans of the protest movement that erupted in mid-September.

“Whether with hijab, whether without it, onwards to revolution,” women dressed in body-covering chador garments chanted in videos posted on Twitter.

Women-led protests have swept Iran since Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin, died following her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the country’s dress code.

Security forces have killed at least 448 protesters, with the largest toll in Sistan-Baluchistan on Iran’s southeastern border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, according to Iran Human Rights, an Oslo-based non-governmental organization.

“It is indeed rare,” IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam said of the protests by women in Zahedan, which has seen men take to the streets after Friday prayers for more than two months.

“The ongoing protests in Iran are the beginning of a revolution of dignity,” he said.

“Women and minorities, who have for more than four decades been treated as second-class citizens, are empowered through these protests to come out to the streets and demand their fundamental human rights.”

Baluchi women were among the “most oppressed” in Iran and their protests were the most organized by them so far since demonstrations broke out across the country, Amiry-Moghaddam added.

Scores of men also took to the streets again on Friday, chanting “we don’t want a child-killing government,” footage posted online by activists showed. Security forces were seen opening fire with bird shots and tear gas on male protesters in Taftan, a locality in Sistan-Baluchistan, in a video published by IHR.

A prominent Sunni cleric said it was wrong to charge protesters with capital offenses. Molavi Abdolhamid, a powerful dissenting Sunni voice in the Shiite-ruled country, said it was wrong for the hardline judiciary to charge protesters with “moharebeh” — a term meaning warring against God — which carries the death penalty.

Meanwhile,  Canada has issued additional sanctions against Iran over its denial of rights for women and girls and for cracking down on peaceful protests, Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly said.

The latest sanctions target four individuals and five entities that Ottawa said were tied to Tehran’s “systematic human rights violations” and actions that “threaten international peace and security.” She added that Canada “will not stand idly by while the regime’s human rights violations increase in scope and intensity against the Iranian people.”


Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot
Updated 03 December 2022

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot

Israeli peace activists show presence in West Bank hot spot
  • The video shows a soldier pushing a man to the ground and punching him in the face after a tense standoff with a small group of peace activists

HEBRON: Dozens of Israeli peace activists toured the occupied West Bank’s largest city on Friday in a show of solidarity with Palestinians, amid chants of “shame, shame” from ultra-nationalist hecklers.
The encounter in the center of Hebron signaled the widening rift among Israelis over the nature of their society and Israel’s open-ended military rule over the Palestinians, now in its 56th year.
After parliamentary elections last month, the most right-wing and religious government in Israel’s history is poised to be installed in coming days or weeks, with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returning to power.
In coalition agreements, Netanyahu has already handed key authorities in the West Bank to ultra-nationalist faction leaders, including former fringe figure Itamar Ben-Gvir, known for his anti-Arab rhetoric.
The new roles include oversight of Israeli settlement construction and the paramilitary border police, often deployed in Palestinian population centers.
At the same time, peace activists and pro-Palestinian rights groups have come under attack in recent years from right-wing politicians branding them traitors.
The immediate trigger for Friday’s tour was an incident in volatile Hebron that was caught on video last week.
The video shows a soldier pushing a man to the ground and punching him in the face after a tense standoff with a small group of peace activists.
Another soldier is heard telling the activists: “Ben-Gvir is going to sort things out in this place. That’s it, you guys have lost.”
The soldier uttering the taunts was initially sentenced to 10 days in military jail, but the army then reduced the sentence to six days.
As incoming national security minister, Ben-Gvir will have control over the border police whose troops are often deployed alongside regular soldiers in the West Bank.

As about 200 peace activists arrived in the center of Hebron on Friday, they were greeted by a group of protesters holding a banner reading: “The people of Israel demand: expel the anarchists from Hebron.” One man shouting through a bullhorn yelled, “shame, shame,” as the visitors listened to tour guides in a parking lot, separated from the right-wing protesters by security forces.
Friday’s visit was part of the regular offerings of anti-occupation groups, but turnout was larger than usual because of the election results and last week’s incident in Hebron, said Ori Givati, a spokesman for Breaking the Silence, one of the groups organizing the trip.
He said activists were worried — but also determined to continue their work, including tours to West Bank hot spots like Hebron, where dozens of heavily guarded settlers live in a city of tens of thousands of Palestinians.
“There is definitely fear for the safety, first and foremost for Palestinians under this occupation that are now going to be under a government that promotes hate and racism more than ever toward them, and toward our organization and other organizations and activists that are now in a reality where their activity here is delegitimized, also more than ever,” Givati said.
Those chanting slogans against the peace activists portrayed themselves as defenders of Israeli settlements and soldiers.
Matan Gerafi of the right-wing Im Tirtzu group alleged the activists aimed to discredit soldiers and branded them “anarchists.”
Palestinians were largely out of sight as the Israeli groups faced off.
Issa Amro, a Palestinian activist in Hebron, said he believes the hard-line ideology of Ben-Gvir and others will spread further in Israeli society.
“The settlers here are celebrating the election of their fascist representatives in the government,” he said. “What happens in Hebron will end in Tel Aviv.”

 


Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian in West Bank

Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian in West Bank
Updated 03 December 2022

Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian in West Bank

Israeli police shoot dead Palestinian in West Bank
  • The Palestinian Red Crescent told AFP its medics “were prevented from dealing with a wounded person who was later declared dead”

HUWARA: Israeli police shot dead a Palestinian on Friday in the occupied West Bank, in an incident described by the force as a stabbing and by a Palestinian official as a quarrel.
Israeli police said its border guards were approached by several suspects in the town of Huwara when one “pulled out a knife and stabbed one of them.”
The guards “responded by shooting one suspect and neutralizing him,” police said in a statement, before confirming to AFP the Palestinian was killed.

Israeli machinery demolishes a Palestinian house in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank amid the recent surge in violence in the conflict. (Reuters)

There are regular patrols by Israeli forces through the town of Huwara, which straddles the main road south of Nablus in the northern West Bank.
A member of the Huwara municipality, Wajeh Odeh, told AFP the shooting followed “a quarrel.”
“An Israeli soldier pushed the Palestinian to the floor and shot him from zero distance,” Odeh said.
Heavily armed border guards were deployed along the street following the incident, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
The Palestinian Red Crescent told AFP its medics “were prevented from dealing with a wounded person who was later declared dead.”
Israeli police said one of its officers suffered minor injuries.
The shooting marks the ninth Palestinian killed since Tuesday in the West Bank, mostly in clashes with or raids by Israeli forces.
In one incident, a man was shot dead after running over a soldier in an alleged car ramming.
The recent surge in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has alarmed the international community.
On Monday, the UN envoy for Middle East peace, Tor Wennesland, warned the situation in the West Bank was “reaching a boiling point.”
At least 145 Palestinians and 26 Israelis have been killed so far this year across the West Bank, Israel and the contested city of Jerusalem.
Israel has occupied the West Bank and east Jerusalem since the 1967 Six-Day War.
The US representative for Palestinian affairs, Hady Amr, on Wednesday said Washington is “deeply aware of the tragic loss of life” in the Palestinian territories.
Those killed in recent months include Israeli soldiers, Palestinian militants and scores of civilians.
Forty-nine Gazans were killed in just three days of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in August.