Part III: The Muslims

Perhaps the most satisfactory part of our time in Israel – other than our fantastic time with the generous, hilarious, and simply fun Hagin-Metzer family – was Hayley’s recognition that it is a land of Jews and Muslims. (She understood beforehand there also are Christians there; as a group, though, they don’t distinguish themselves by their appearance, save for in the Armenian and Christian quarters of the Old City.)

Hayley had believed that only Jews lived within Israel and that Muslims lived everywhere outside the country’s borders. Yet every day of our trip she saw Jews and Muslims. Walking past one another. Doing business with one another. Eating in the same restaurants. Riding to work or school on the same above-ground subway/train.

There likely is a code of conduct among certain in the Muslim population and certain in the Jewish population; I’m not adept enough to have noticed or to have known in advance if this is the case. Did I see religious Jews and Muslims interacting? I don’t believe so. But since the secular Jews are everywhere, too, we saw plenty of Muslims and Jews side-by side, particularly in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

Then, there’s the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. That is a universe unto itself. We’d first walked through it while on our guided tour of the Old City’s four quarters and their history. We then accidentally entered the Muslim Quarter on a second occasion, when on our own and when we’d wanted to access the Old City via Damascus Gate. I say “accidentally” because the girls really got ogled in that cramped quarter, and they understandably hated it and would have preferred avoiding it. Especially the part where they knew they were being catcalled…in a language we couldn’t make heads or tails of.

I had so badly wanted that the obvious ogling wouldn’t occur; I’d wanted them to experience the Muslim Quarter as I’d remembered it when a college kid: It seemed to me then as just another bustling place, like the main street of Ben Yehuda or the New City’s famous and awesome Mahane Market. It’s possible our experience was colored by our timing: We were there during Ramadan, the holiest month on the Muslim calendar, when observant Muslims don’t eat a thing or drink a drop as long as there is light in the sky. In June, their days without sustenance were long. So, those poor folks were hangry to the extreme.

Perhaps as a result of it being Ramadan, the mornings in the Muslim Quarter – not long after their early morning meal – felt like jostling matches; they had energy. But by later in the day, as the heat swelled and afternoon prayers came on, the quarter was demonstrably calmer and less populated. Many shop owners stuck to the back of their narrow places of business, napping on carpets. Other proprietors hung limply near their wares.

Religious Muslim men seem to have it right in the clothing department. To the Westerner’s eye, they wear the equivalent of long-sleeved dresses; on their feet are sandals. The women, however, cover from head to toe; some wore the face veil, and some even wore gloves to conceal their hands. I truly cannot imagine wearing that level of clothing, particularly in the rising heat and while rubbing elbows with every passerby and being unable to drink water until sundown.

Twice in the Muslim Quarter we came across very heated arguments. Both appeared to be between shop owners trying to protect their own turf. Both Arabic and Hebrew are Semitic languages, thus guttural; when spoken in the midst of an argument, it seems the only thing we Westerners hear is the glottal fricatives, no vowels. So the shop owners’ arguments were very, very angry-sounding. More likely, they were hAngry-sounding. Regardless, their disputes clearly caught the attention of their fellow (probably bored) shop owners; the once-languid folks would get up and peak out of their stations to follow the drama.

Once we’d passed out of the Muslim Quarter, it felt like we’d left behind another world.

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