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Ali Qleibo: Tabash Crosses the Street

Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 28.05.2006:

On Sunday the 10th of January 1988, Tabash, ignoring the threats of Israeli soldiers, crossed the street facing Herod’s Gate and entered the Old City to sell bread in his store. This provocative act transformed him into an instant hero. The simple act of Tabash crossing the street dramatically superseded the women’s demonstration staged a few meters further down the square.

It has become increasingly difficult to avoid getting caught in a demonstration in East Jerusalem. A group of people is always ready to demonstrate their grievances against the ongoing occupation, against the high taxes, against the excessive cruelty, against the harsh measures taken in towns, villages and refugee camps.

Something must have just happened on Sunday the 10th of January, 1988. A great number of soldiers filled the stretch between the Rivoli Hotel and Herod’s Gate. No cars were in sight on Salah el-Din Street. Sirens from ambulances and army jeeps echoed through the hollow silence. The burning itch of tear gas filled the air. Mounted policemen trotted around and numerous circles of elderly Arab men had already formed in the square in front of the post office. We hurried our steps to the closest circle and overheard the description of the confrontation that had just taken place on that Sunday morning.

“A demonstration by women of all ages started from Damascus Gate towards Herod’s Gate. It was quiet, no stones were thrown, nothing at all, a peaceful demonstration. Even the regular soldiers stationed in the street stepped aside and did not interfere. The women continued walking, but halfway, near the Pilgrim’s Palace Hotel, and from two directions, horsemen, jeeps and vans filled with armed soldiers arrived. The soldiers came from the east, from the direction of the Rockefeller Museum and from the west from above the Notre Dame Monastery. The women were trapped in the middle and the soldiers attacked them with their clubs…”

Everybody looked distressed by the story.

It was at this moment that Tabash tried to cross the street to his bread shop in Herod’s Gate. A soldier ordered him to stay in his place, but Tabash retorted, “It is my city and no one is going to stop me from crossing my street.”

“Get lost, you old fool” the seventy five year old Jerusalemite was told.

“Were you a real man you would not bully women, boys and old men. Why, you coward, twelve men like you wouldn’t be strong enough for one Arab man!”

He did not care any longer and continued as he became more rebellious. “Kill me if you want. I do not give a damn. A coward like you will not stop me from crossing my street in my city.”

On Sunday the 10th of January, 1988, Tabash, the owner of a small bread store, in defiance of the orders of an Israeli Druze soldier, crossed the street and entered the Old City through the Herod’s Gate to open his bread stand and sell bread as he had been doing for the past fifty years.

Source: Ali Qleibo, Before the Mountains Disappear: An Ethnographic Chronicle of the Modern Palestinians, Kloreus, Jerusalem, 1992.

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