J’lem bureaucratic hump sees Kojak the camel ‘jailed’

"I haven’t worked for 2 weeks," says owner of Mt. of Olives photographic icon; city municipality says animal lacks vaccinations, license.

Kojak the camel Jerusalem 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
Kojak the camel Jerusalem 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
The iconic photo of a tourist sitting on a camel’s back with the Dome of the Rock in the background is under threat, after Jerusalem Municipality officials detained Kojak the Camel for not having the correct paperwork.
The 11-year-old Kojak is owned by Ali Abu Hawa, whose family has owned the camels that tourists use for pictures on the Mount of Olives for the past 26 years.
The municipality charges that Abu Hawa was operating without a license and that his camel was not properly vaccinated against rabies and other diseases, a requirement for any animals working with tourists or the public. Abu Hawa said he had originally been given a license to keep a camel on the Mount of Olives during Teddy Kollek’s tenure as Jerusalem mayor. He renewed the license annually, as was required, but starting in 2009 the municipality refused to renew it. The veterinarian then refused to give the camel the vaccinations because the license was invalid.
The municipality declined to explain why Abu Hawa had been unable to renew the license.
On Thursday, the municipality said Abu Hawa was “illegally operating a tourism business.”
“Despite repeated warnings to the owner of the camel to remove him from the city, the owners refused, and veterinary services had to confiscate the camel,” said a municipality spokesman.
“I haven’t worked in two weeks, and I have seven kids at home,” Abu Hawa told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. “It’s like a mafia, like thieves. I’m sitting at home for two weeks and haven’t even made one shekel.”
Abu Hawa lives on the Mount of Olives, less than a kilometer from the Revi’im Promenade near the Seven Arches Hotel, where he usually works.
“We’ve been there for almost 30 years. The Border Police and the police all know us; I know their kids because they bring them to come take pictures. I even went to one of their houses for Seder for Pessah,” said Abu Hawa.
He normally charges tourists between NIS 10 and NIS 15 to sit on the camel and pose for a picture.
In an average day, he makes about NIS 150, NIS 50 of which goes toward the camel’s food.
Kojak was seized two weeks ago and is currently being detained in Lifta, Abu Hawa believes. He claims the municipality won’t release the camel until he has the animal insured, in case of accidents with tourists.
“They said, ‘No insurance, no camel,’” said Abu Hawa.
After searching the country for a week, he has finally located an insurance company in Tel Aviv that has agreed to insure Kojak.
Tal Feldman from the Madanes Insurance Agency confirmed that this was the first camel the company was insuring since the company was founded in 1972.
The company, which offers liability, travel, auto, home, life and business insurance, among other things, estimated the cost of insuring a camel for one year at NIS 10,000.
But Abu Hawa might run into additional problems, as the company is unsure of whether it can process the insurance claim if Abu Hawa doesn’t have a valid license. Additionally veterinary services are requiring Abu Hawa pay a fee of NIS 100 per day for the camel’s upkeep, he said.
Abu Hawa said tour guides were disappointed when they showed up with busloads of tourists and Kojak was not in his usual spot.
“Tourists from around the world are asking, ‘Where’s the camel?’ And we say, ‘The camel’s in jail,’” said Abu Hawa. “Then they say, ‘We want to save the camel!’”