OLD CITY, Jerusalem — The siren on Saturday evening caught ‘Azza ‘Alan and her family preparing for Iftar, the traditional meal breaking the fast of Ramadan.
“I shut my five daughters at home, we didn’t leave,” the 26-year-old housewife told The Times of Israel. “We have no bomb shelters here in the Old City. We have God who protects us.”
The rockets flying over Jerusalem seem to have left Jerusalem’s Palestinians not only more defiant but also much more angry at Israel. Gaza is widely viewed as the victim of perpetual Israeli aggression, Hamas as the champion of the Palestinian cause. While proud of their hardened positions, residents of the Old City remain deeply suspicious of Israeli media, refusing to be photographed and often to use their real names.
The sirens scare the children, admitted ‘Alan, but added that she cheers her children up by saying that they are meant to “scare the Jews.”
“We tell them that the Jews want to take Jerusalem from us, they want to take the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” she said.
Unlike previous Ramadans, where permits were generously granted to Palestinians from the West Bank to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, this year access remains extremely limited even to Jerusalem residents, with worshipers under the age of 50 often denied entry.
Israel’s Home Front command has issued its protection guidelines in Arabic, and — with reported rocket landings in or near the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah — the IDF’s Civil Administration has distributed the guidelines throughout the West Bank, Israeli radio has reported.
But shopping for children’s clothes in an Old City alleyway, Um Jumaa, 35, said that even if bomb shelters existed, she wouldn’t use them. When the siren began on Saturday evening she opened her home’s windows and went outside with her family.
“We were very happy. The children were shouting allahu akbar and we were clapping. We explained to them that Jews have attacked children and this is retaliation. They say ‘My God, may they [the rockets] hit the Jews, and may they die, just the way they hit us.'” Even if rockets hit the Old City, she added, she would have no problem because “we are no different from them [in Gaza].”
Abu Hatem, a 65-year-old resident of Kufr Aqab in northeastern Jerusalem, said that in the absence of bomb shelters in his neighborhood, when the sirens sound people stay home and continue watching TV.
“When someone constructs an apartment building, he doesn’t construct bomb shelters, instead he makes parking for cars,” said Abu Hatem, sitting outside a sweets shop.
Sounds of explosion are nothing strange for Palestinian children in Jerusalem, said Abu Hatem, “who grow up hearing gunfire while they’re still in their mothers’ womb.”
For Abu Hatem, Hamas’s rockets are simply self defense. “What power does Hamas have compared to Israel?” he said. “It’s like a small child which gets beaten up as it grows older.”
It was Israel, he opined, which launches a war against Hamas every few years to show its public that it is capable of defending it.
“Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] said we want negotiations, not shooting, but they [the Israelis] shoot anyway.”
Time and again, passersby in the alleys of the Muslim Quarter boasted their steadfastness in the face of the rockets raining down from Gaza. One man said he was driving past a Jewish neighborhood on his way to the north Jerusalem suburb of Qalandia on Saturday when the siren went off.
“The Jews, the police, the army, everyone got down and lay on the ground, while we continued normally, and my children signaled the victory sign,” he said. “Death is a virtue. A person doesn’t get to live one minute more than God assigns him.”
A shoe salesman, asking to be named Abu Jihad after the militant Fatah chief killed by Israel in 1988, said that Jerusalem children often take to the streets as the sirens blast to identify with the children of Gaza.
“The children love the sound of the siren as though it was a children’s game,” he told The Times of Israel, as he watched a small TV broadcasting images of destroyed buildings in Gaza. “We tell them ‘come inside,’ and they say ‘I don’t want to come in, I want to die like those in Gaza’.”
Footage of destruction and suffering in Gaza only makes Hamas more popular on the Palestinian street, Abu Jihad insisted. “We don’t trust the PA. It is a treacherous authority which coordinates its security with Israel. Only yesterday Abu Mazen [Abbas] said that Hamas is profiteering in war. He’s a war profiteer and a traitor. He should leave the country rather than speak that way.”
“If you’re so powerful,” he said defiantly, addressing the Israeli audience, “enter Gaza by land and then we’ll see. Your soldiers don’t dare enter one centimeter into Gaza.”