Connect with us

World News

Jerusalem's usually bustling Old City becomes a ghost town: Reporter's Notebook

Published

on

/ 7170 Views
The steps of the Damascus Gate have been cleared out. Gone are the fruit and sumac vendors. And inside the Old City: rows and rows of shops have shut down.

JERUSALEM -- It's a far cry from the usual hustle and bustle, so typical of Jerusalem's Old City.

The steps of the Damascus Gate have been cleared out. Gone are the fruit and sumac vendors. And inside the Old City: rows and rows of shops have shut down.

"This is the worst days we've ever seen in our lives. Even when the corona[virus] was here it was better than this," said Adnan Jaffa, who runs the Jaffar Sweets shop. "Because of the war ... the situation. In five minutes we're going to close because there is nothing to do."

For those who know the Old City, it's an eerie place to be. Even the Church of the Holy Sepulchre -- where Christ is believed to have been buried and resurrected -- was empty on Sunday but for a handful of worshippers. It felt like we were being given a private tour of one of the world's holiest and most visited sites.

PHOTO: Shop doors are closed in a market in Jerusalem’s Old City, which has quiet amid the fighting between Israel and Hamas, in a photo taken on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023.
Shop doors are closed in a market in Jerusalem’s Old City, which has quiet amid the fighting between Israel and Hamas, in a photo taken on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023.
Guy Davies/ABC News

MORE: Israel-Gaza live updates

Ehab Barakat, who was cycling through the deserted Old City, was one of the few customers out there on the city's streets.

Asked about the increasing tensions, he said: "We hope it will be quiet."

He added, "This is the time to be united. One."

But the latest cycle of violence has come has no surprise, he said.

PHOTO: A view of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, a usually busy area that's become quiet amid the fighting between Israel and Hamas, in a photo taken Oct. 15, 2023.
A view of the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, a usually busy area that's become quiet amid the fighting between Israel and Hamas, in a photo taken Oct. 15, 2023.
Guy Davies/ABC News

"The new government of Israel … you would be stupid if you would not guess what is going to happen. And we are not stupid. We were just waiting for the time."

"The people get so tied … like a balloon. With a lot of air inside. And then it will…"

MORE: 'Freaks me out': Americans say they are trapped in Gaza

His English may have failed him -- but it seemed clear what he meant.

Israeli police now stand at the entrance to the Damascus Gate, occasionally searching young men. Orthodox Jews occasionally wander through the Old City to worship at the Western Wall. But there is none of the fervour which people associate with Jerusalem. It's been replaced by a strange quiet.

PHOTO: A view inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a usually busy tourist destination that's become quiet amid the fighting between Israel and Hamas, in a photo taken on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023.
A view inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, a usually busy tourist destination that's become quiet amid the fighting between Israel and Hamas, in a photo taken on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023.
Guy Davies/ABC News

In the words of Abushadi Sinjlawi, another shopkeeper we found closing early for the day, "The city is under lockdown."

But away from the eerie quiet and melancholy atmosphere in the Old City, the situation is tense. Jerusalem is said to be the most heavily policed city in the country, and that will likely remain the case as the war in the south rages on.

PHOTO: A view of Jerusalem, a usually bustling city that's become quiet amid the fighting between Israel and Hamas, in a photo taken on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023.
A view of Jerusalem, a usually bustling city that's become quiet amid the fighting between Israel and Hamas, in a photo taken on Sunday, Oct. 15, 2023.
Guy Davies/ABC News

Checkpoints have been set up across East Jerusalem. And videos are spreading online appearing to show the harassment of Palestinians at the hands of the police. Cars are being stopped and searched. There are videos of apparent police beatings. In sporadic, individual incidents where locals have clashed with police, the response appears to have been brute force.

Already at least 50 Palestinians have been killed in East Jerusalem and the West Bank since the war broke out -- that's more than the highest ever monthly total since the UN began keeping records in 2005.

Trending