The quarters of the old city of Jerusalem
When you read about the old city of Jerusalem, you usually read about four quarters. There is the Christian quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Jewish quarter and the Armenian quarter. Already this division into four quarters is highly questionable. The boarders are not rigid and historically there were never quarters based on religion. It was during the British Mandate period that the division in quarters became visible on maps. But there are more quarters, never mentioned on maps, where communities live that have a special history and background. One of them is the African quarter. Another one is where the Domari gypsy community lives. They have their origins in India and they have lived in Jerusalem since the 16th century.
The Afro Palestinian community in Jerusalem
The African quarter is near Bab-al Majlis, also called the Council Gate, one of the gates that leads to Al Aqsa compound. To reach the African quarter you have to pass an Israeli police checkpoint. And there is more Israeli police further down the street, before you enter the Haram al Sharif, the noble sanctuary. The Afro Palestinian community consists of around 350 people. They come from four countries: Chad, Sudan, Senegal and Nigeria. The grandfathers and great grandfathers of the young generation today, came on pilgrimage and stayed to defend the Aqsa mosque when the Israeli zionist militias attacked in 1948. They stayed as the protectors of the noble sanctuary. They got married to local Palestinian women and their children and grandchildren completely integrated into the Palestinian society. None of their descendants have been to Africa or speak the language of their ancestors.
The African quarter in Jerusalem
The Africans were given two buildings to live in. These buildings were former prisons during the Ottoman time. They are called Ribat al-Baseri and Ribat al-Mansuri. They were used for long term prison sentences and for executions. When you enter into the compounds you can still recognize the prison cells. The houses have been adapted but they are still very small and the quarter is overcrowded. For that reason several people of the community have decided to leave to other quarters in the old city and even outside of the old city.
Afro Palestinians are active community members
Although there is still a hinge of racism, generally the Afro Palestinians feel accepted and respected in Palestine. That’s also related to their important role in the national struggle. Several members of the Afro Palestinian community have served prison time. In this podcast episode you can hear Ali Jeddah, born in 1950, who was part of a resistance group in 1968 when he planted a bomb in West Jerusalem that injured 9 Israelis. Ali and his cousin Mahmud Jeddah spent 17 years in prison until they were released in a prisoner exchange. Fatima Barnawi, with a Nigerian father and Palestinian mother, was the first woman in prison. They charged her with terrorist activities.
Most of the Afro Palestinians suffer from the Israeli oppression. The young men are constantly asked to show their ID cards and they are often harassed or taken to the police station for no obvious reason. Ali Jeddah is very positive about the young generation. He said that this generation will be the generation that will change the situation in Jerusalem.
Listen to the podcast episode about the African Palestinians
In this podcast episode you can hear Mohammed Qous, 22 years old, whose grandfather came from Chad and married a Palestinian woman from Jericho and whose father married a Palestinian woman from Ramallah. He is a third generation in the Afro Palestinian community. You can also hear Ali Jeddah, who worked as a journalist and tour guide after he was released from prison. He is optimistic about the future, although he emphasizes that right now the city is crying out for help. “Sometimes I like to walk around the city and speak with the stones.”
Website of the African Community Society in Jerusalem: https://www.afropalestinians.org/