Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 August 2019

New Jerusalem guidebook offers a look at the disputed city through a Palestinian lens

Wujood – which is Arabic for "existence" – aims to provide tourists tips, maps and itineraries for navigating occupied East Jerusalem and its Palestinian culture

Palestinian children stand under water sprayed to cool the crowd during the last Friday prayer of Ramadan near the Dome of the Rock in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City. AP Photo
Palestinian children stand under water sprayed to cool the crowd during the last Friday prayer of Ramadan near the Dome of the Rock in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City. AP Photo

Visitors to Jerusalem don’t often explore Palestinian parts of the disputed holy city. But a new guidebook offering a pointedly Palestinian perspective is trying to change that.

Wujood — which is Arabic for "existence" — aims to provide tourists tips, maps and itineraries for navigating occupied East Jerusalem with a Palestinian lens. First published by Palestinian group Grassroots Jerusalem in 2014, the recently released second-edition aims to expand to a wider audience, says Fayrouz Sharqawi, advocacy coordinator at Grassroots Jerusalem.

Wujood tells the political story of Jerusalem,” says Sharqawi. “The Palestinian presence in Jerusalem is being hidden away from tourists… as a result when tourists visit Jerusalem they do not see the Palestinian people and they do not see the Palestinian community.”

Jerusalem is divided between the predominantly Arab east side, which peace plans slate as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and the Jewish-majority west side, with the Old City, revered for its religious sites, situated on the seam.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and annexed it soon after in violation of international law. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are not Israeli citizens; rather, they are stateless permanent residents who cannot vote in national elections, among other restrictions. Poverty, unemployment, and urban decay are high in the marginalised east side. Critics say this is a product of Israel's policy to maintain a demographic majority in Jerusalem. Israel claims both sides of Jerusalem as its capital, though much of the international community rejects its annexation of the east side.

Tourism is big business in Jerusalem, accounting for 40 per cent of the economy on the east side, Sharqawi says. However, just 20 per cent of the over three million tourists visiting Jerusalem in recent years have stayed in hotels in Palestinian East Jerusalem, according to Sharqawi.

Wujood.
Wujood.

The predominance of trips centered on West Jerusalem hotels, restaurants and shopping is a loss for the local Palestinian economy.

“Just as a pure tourist experience there is a whole half of the city that they do not enjoy that has a lot to offer,” Sharqawi says.

This also has a political dynamic, in which “visitors to the city do not see the [Israeli military] occupation”..

“The whole political reality of occupation and displacement in Jerusalem is hidden away from the tourists.”

To redress this limited visibility, Wujood is divided into several chapters offering tourists insights on varying levels: from a Palestinian political narrative of East Jerusalem, to how to navigate the Palestinian bus lines, to where to eat and sleep, and other grassroots organisations and initiatives to connect with. The book also offers guidance in traveling to other Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank, such as Ramallah and Bethlehem, and other cities in Israel with strong Arab-Palestinian communities, like Acre, Jaffa and Nazareth.

“You can find the Palestinian narrative in these cities and support the Palestinian economy in them,” Sharqawi says.

Wujood is currently being sold in and around Jerusalem, and will soon be available to purchase in hard cover and downloadable form internationally. Grassroots Jerusalem is also working on an upcoming Arabic translation.

Updated: August 6, 2019 02:48 PM

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