Last Christian shop-owners in Old City: 'Tourists afraid of the politics'

“There is Jewish and there is Muslim, and they are interested in politics. But we are neutral here."

The owners of "Salman Souvenir" have witnessed 50 years of Old City history (photo credit: ARIEL COHEN)
The owners of "Salman Souvenir" have witnessed 50 years of Old City history
(photo credit: ARIEL COHEN)
“Try the shop with the green awning,” the Arab shop-owner says. “I think there are still some Christians who work there.”
The stalls in the Christian corner in the Old City of Jerusalem may be adorned with crucifixes, images of the Madonna and holy water for sale, but you are greeted with “Salaam” rather than “Shalom” upon entrance.
These small shops that crowd the edges of the cobblestone paths are predominantly owned by Arabs who came in and bought the property from struggling Christian shop owners some years ago.
The Salman brothers are two of the last Christian shop-owners in the Christian Quarter. They have watched the area near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre grow and evolve for the past 80 years. The two brothers (who wished to keep their first names anonymous), along with their friend A.T., grew up together and have owned and run Salman Souvenir shop for the past 50 years. Before that their father owned the shop, and before that their grandfather did.
Salman Souvenir is one of the larger shops in the Christian Quarter, as it actually resembles a storefront, rather than just a hole-in-the-wall roadside-stall like most other vendors.
Although mainly Muslim vendors run and operate the shops in the Christian Quarter, the Salman brothers say that it’s Christians they see coming to visit the Holy Land. And it’s not just the Christian Quarter that draws in the tourists-- in 2013, 53 percent of Israel’s 3.54 million incoming tourists were Christians, according to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics.
The brothers and A.T. recall that during Operation Protective Edge over the summer, business took a dramatic dip. Today they see that trend beginning again, with fewer visitors entering the Old City among the new wave of increased violence in Jerusalem.
“When politics change it's bad for business, fewer tourists want to come to the Old City. They are too afraid of the politics,” one of the Salman brothers says.
To Christians, the Temple Mount holds great historical significance, yet the religious minority has stayed far away from the current debate. The temple played a prominent role in the life of Jesus Christ, and is mentioned in the New Testament on three separate occasions. Additionally, Christians believe that the temple will be reconstructed upon the Second Coming of Christ.
Despite this, Christians are advised against praying at the holy site, much like Jews. Throughout the current debate, no Christian leaders have stepped in to advocate for Christian prayer upon the Temple Mount.
“We are not interfering,” Salman says. “But Jesus had been praying on the mosque. It was a temple in the time of the Lord. But now, everything has changed here.”
The CBS notes that by the end of 2013, 158,000 Christians resided in Israel, making up about two percent of the population.
Only 11,700 of these Christians live in Jerusalem.
The Salman brothers say that the population of Christians living in the Old City is decreasing as a result of politics and, what they feel, is a lack of governmental concern for Israel's Christian population.
“If it stays like this there will be no Christians living in Jerusalem. So many people have left because of the dirty politics,” A.T. says.
Salman adds: “There is Jewish and there is Muslim, and they are interested in politics. But we are neutral here."
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