An uncertain future on Salah el-Din Street

Near Damascus Gate, and leading to the battlements of the old city, is the bustling Saladin Street. We are in the heart of the Palestinian sector of Jerusalem and on its main road. No Israeli presence here for the time being. Not for long, probably… A few months ago, part of the building that houses the post and police offices was sold to a Jewish religious organization. Many of the inhabitants of Saladin say they are worried. Among them, Mahmoud Muna, the owner of the most famous coffee-shop library in East Jerusalem. As he enters the Educational Bookshop which is adjacent to the Institut Francais, Mahmoud shelves copies of a new book he just received: Salam Palestine, a lovely little travel log written by three French writers. This family-owned business has been around for 25 years and is a landmark of East Jerusalem.

Why did you call it the Educational Bookshop?

Mahmoud Muna: “Educational” means knowledge, culture. The idea was to have a bookshop with a wide array of books, to display the best of Palestinian culture. I want to show the real face of my country, what it can really offer, without being biased. We developed the concept of a bookshop that is more attractive, as it also serves as a coffe-shop. We emphasize Palestinian education, literature and history. I have to say our mission is a bit political. But the locals like us. Recently, five floors of the Post and Police office building were sold to the Zionist organization Ateret Cohanim*.

How did you react to the news?

MM: I am extremely saddened. Everyone knows this part of the building was sold to an agency that tries to establish settlers. But we don’t know what they want to do. Nothing is clear. It is very worrying if they are planning on building a religious school in the heart of Saladin Street. It means we will have even less freedom than before. I am afraid of the consequences on our daily life. You will start seeing young religious orthodox Jews every day in an entirely Arab street. Tension will rise. Will there be more police force? Will they build a checkpoint within Saladin Street? Nobody knows. Imagine they decide to close off the whole street on Saturday? It would be a catastrophe for businesses.

*Since 1978, this organization aims to acquire property in East Jerusalem to establish Jewish settlements.