chapter  7
Holy places and the living city
Pages 33

Inside the Muslim Quarter’s medieval Cotton Market is a small café, popular amongst middle-aged men as a place to meet, drink coffee, smoke an argileh (water-pipe), gossip and discuss current events.1 It is particularly well-attended on Friday mornings before the weekly prayers at al-Aqsa mosque. As the café is only a few metres from the Cotton Gate entrance into the Haram, the men can have a last sip of coffee and then rush into the service just as it is about to start. But closer observation shows that many of them, as well as others, enter the Haram compound but not the mosque; nor do they carry prayer carpets to use in the outdoor paved courtyard. In fact, during prayers, they wait around in the large Haram precinct, quietly and a little bored (Plate 24) and at the end of the service some are quickly back in the market café. It appears they do not make this weekly journey to the mosque out of piety but are there simply because so many of their countrymen cannot be: many Palestinians are forbidden to attend by the Israeli authorities either because of age restrictions or because they do not have identity cards allowing entry to Jerusalem from the West Bank. This includes Palestinians from the ‘Jerusalem villages’; that is, the villages near the city with commercial, religious, familial and other connections to it. The result is an unusually elderly population of local people that functions informally as proxy: those who can be admitted arrive without fail each week (Figure 7.1).2 Worship, by the politically motivated, is intended to be evident. At the same time, for the more truly pious, it is important to be on the spot where communion with the divine is properly mediated. The numbers have steadily increased since the Second Intifada, creating an odd phenomenon where non-observant Muslims become political activists through religious practice. In doing so, they join their more religious co-patriots, who also throng the city streets, markets and cafes before and after services. Here, everyday life is explicitly conscripted as part of the Palestinian national effort and the city, particularly near the Haram in al-Wad Street, has been transformed because of it.3