Making our way to The Old City my wife search for a cab. We watch as a cab driver staring facedown at his smartphone drives straight into the side of a parked car with three guys inside at a speed of what looked like 10 miles-per-hour.
The three Israeli guys inside the hit car throw up their arms and yell at the cab driver’s unacceptable stupidity.
The cab driver, directing his finger at the point of impact, shakes his head at the guys as if to say, “Nothing happened. No major damage.”
The cab driver lied. There was clear damage.
When the guys get out to look at their car, what they see is an obvious dent. The guys approach the cab driver, waiting for him to get to get his car insurance information.
That’s when things get interesting…
The cab driver quickly pulls his car into reverse and attempts to flee the scene. One of the guys bolts to the middle of the street to stop the cab driver from getting to the intersection. The guy is now a roadblock, risking his life.
Luckily the cab driver isn’t desperate enough to run him over.
The cab driver stops his car from going in reverse, the two other guys charge, kick and punch at the taxi’s windows, while hollering for him to get out.
His driver’s side mirror gets torn off by one of the guys. His windows are holding, not yet smashed in, but a few more kicks and this cab driver will be ripped out of the car for sure.
The cab driver panics, struggles, but finally manages to put the car back into drive.
He swerves onto the sidewalk to get around the car he hit. Then bobs and weaves around parked cars that are jutting out on the narrow side street.
The three Israelis sprint back to their dinged-up car, rev up the engine, and begin the chase. We don’t see what happens next. We only hear the sounds of wheels screeching and engines fading in the distance. However it ended, I assume that taxi ride was the most terrifying in the history of that cab driver’s life.
In a joking manner I ask my wife, “Should we find another taxi…?”
My wife and I decide to walk to the Old City.
Approaching the stunning Old City of Jerusalem one easily forgets the history of conflict within these walls. In the six thousand years of its existence, Jerusalem has been attacked on all fronts, and ownership of this capital has changed hands as many times as a shekel.
The city is host to three of the most influential religions in the world, two of which are the backbone to most of history’s wars.
I walk through the Jaffa Gate with the thought of countless unnecessary lives lost within this gorgeous and timeless place.
The Old City is separated into four quarters – Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Armenian – but I don’t see the divide between them. I only see a lively and happy people; a population of market sellers, religious inhabitants, and tourists who look ecstatic to be experiencing an ancient and still-living city. The Old City is more than just an attraction; for many, this is home.
The biggest argument you’ll find here is when an Arab-Israeli and Jewish-Israeli disagree on the price of fabric.
“No way! 40 shekels!”
“Okay, we call it 45?”
As I walk through the Muslim quarter I hold my wife’s hand tightly while my mother’s advice rings in my ears, “Ariel, stay away from the Muslim quarter. It’s not safe for Jews to go there.”
While crossing my fingers, I promised my mother to stay away from the Muslim quarter.
I needed to experience a Muslim neighborhood to overcome this unnecessary fear, which was indirectly instilled – or hinted – in my education.
I was never taught to dislike Muslims, or anyone for that matter. But I was always aware of the history of violence among Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Walking through the Muslim quarter I find there’s nothing outwardly intimidating about individual Muslims, but I do feel a bit restricted and begin to peer into the eyes of every Arab that I walk by.
Are they staring at me, or am I staring at them? I don’t really know.
Do I look at these people the same way I look at Americans in Boston…? I can’t imagine so. I find myself taking a much deeper look; soaking in everyone’s demeanor as if they were a fine, red wine.
I see two Muslim children selling bread.
“8 shekels,” their handwritten sign says. Seems like a steal by the size of the bread.
To one of the children I hand over ten shekels and tell him to keep the change, but he doesn’t understand English so he hands back two.
“No, no. Keep it,” I say. I re-offer the change.
He nods his head and says, “Shukran,” (‘Thank you’ in Arabic).
The boys’ father comes out of his store. He thanks me and my wife for buying the bread. Staring at my wife, he smiles and tells her, “Ya Allah, I would buy you for 10,000 camels!”
My wife and I laugh. That joke seemed to relieve our unwarranted stress. I could have just as easily been in Boston right now, and one of my good friends would harmlessly and playfully call my wife hot. And we’d laugh together. But I’m here in The Old City laughing with a Muslim man that I was supposed to fear.
I don’t fear him. I befriend him in those few moments.
“Do you want to buy some jewelry for your wife?” the Muslim seller asks, pointing to the window of his store that has an array of fine gold and silver – but who knows how much of that is actually real?
“No thank you,” I say as politely as I can, “She already has all the jewelry she needs,” I lift her hand to show the shiny rings on her finger.
“Of course,” he says with a wry grin, “All you Jews are the same. You won’t buy anything unless it’s free!”
I burst into laughter. His pretentiousness is a shock of fresh air.
Before leaving the Muslim market seller, I asked for directions to the Jewish quarter. As my wife and I walk away he says with another huge smile, “Enjoy Jerusalem. Maybe next time come with more money!”
After my interaction with that seller and his sons, I now feel comfortable as a Jew in the Muslim quarter.
Leading my wife through the traffic and maze of people, I loosen the grip on her hand. We’re surrounded by friends.