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Hammam al-Ayn

Contributed by This Week In Palestine on 04.07.2008:

Jerusalem: A World of Culture

By Huda Imam

As I entered Souq al-Qattanine this morning through Lions Gate, I passed Bab Hutta, St. Anne, Tareeq al-Mujahideen, the Via Dolorosa with its Ecco Homo, and walked towards the Austrian Hospice and Tareeq al-Wad to reach the Centre for Jerusalem Studies. At its Mamlouk khan, around 50 children had gathered, wearing T-shirts from Shams Al-Maaref, the school that they attend in Anata, which today is behind the Wall. The children had come to participate in one of the weekly tours of the Old City of Jerusalem for children under 15, organised by the Centre for Jerusalem Studies. The visit to Hammam al-Ayn followed a traditional breakfast prepared by Abu Shukri that was punctuated with storytelling: how the Mamluks had built beautiful schools and hammamat in the city, and how the Old City inhabitants enjoyed gathering in the hammam, not because they did not have their own baths, but rather to chill and chat while getting a special soap massage (takyees) or to celebrate a bride’s wedding night with the hinna and the zyneh.

“Our next visit,” I told the children, “will be to the Ha-et al-Buraq, beyond the Hay al-Magharibah and the Cardo.”

“Where the Jews pray?” Ali asked.

“Yes,” I said. “The city of Jerusalem is the mother of the three monotheistic religions, and we ought to respect all religions regardless of how we have been treated… The next visit will be to the church of the Holy Sepulchre.”

“That’s where the Christians pray,” Hammoudeh noted. “So I cannot pray there, can I?” he asked.

“Of course you can. You can pray anywhere you want,” I replied. Then I recounted the story of Khalifeh Omar’s entry into Jerusalem from Bab al-Magharibah. He was invited to pray in this church but opted to pray a few meters away from the church in order to avoid its possible transformation into a mosque. Since my childhood, I have always loved to light a candle, recite the fatiha, and make a wish when I visit this church. As a Jerusalemite, I consider it part of my culture.

“On your way you will pass the Souq al-Attareen wil Lahammeen, with its many asbileh (alleyways) that the Turks built.” Unfortunately, a number of asbileh are becoming garbage corners, especially during Ramadan when the garbage mounts up.

“Later on you will plant an olive tree in the garden of the Haram and put the name of your school on it. You will then be able to show it to your friends whenever you want.”

Today as the Hammam al-Ayn is increasingly surrounded by settlements, and as its inside walls are in a state of disrepair, the Centre and its friends use this magic place as a cultural forum. It has become the venue for Sufi nights during Layali Ramadan and many other musical concerts with Al Kamandjati. The Hammam recently hosted a number of exhibitions for Palestinian artists and Italian photographers, thanks to the support of the French Cultural Centre as well as the initiative and continuous support of Al Quds University.

Hammam al-Ayn will soon undergo a face-lift, which will aid in reviving its cultural rituals. It will continue to host a variety of artists from all over the world as well as cultural events that aim to mobilize people to participate in calligraphy workshops, mosaic works, music, photography, art installations, and other festivities to celebrate Al Quds 2009.

The newly renovated Hammam will be celebrated throughout the year with events that will include poetry, dance, and films that are specifically linked to various countries and cultures. Food festivals will allow guests to taste the specialties of each participating country. To be able to get as much as possible from the rich culture of Jerusalem, the Centre offers courses in Arabic, which is the essence of understanding the full diversity of culture. The year-long programme will celebrate the city of Jerusalem as the Arab cultural capital and the world capital of humanity and spirituality.

This is cosmopolitan Jerusalem, rich in its mosaic of civilisations, which is known by many Palestinians and friends of Jerusalem: the Armenian community, the African community at Bab al-Hadid, the Gypsies at Bab Hutta, the Indian zawiya at Herod’s Gate, the Copts, the Syriac community, and the Greeks in the Greek colony near Baqa’a in West Jerusalem, where many Palestinians still have their homes. This is the identity of Jerusalem, which the occupier has been tirelessly struggling to destroy – to no avail.

Ms. Huda Imam is a Palestinian Jerusalemite and the mother of artist Hani Amra. She was educated in Jerusalem and Paris and did post-graduate studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Ms. Imam is a founding member of the Jerusalem Link and Al Ma’mal Foundation for Contemporaty Art. She founded the Centre for Jerusalem Studies of Al Quds University in the Old City ten years ago and is presently its director.

This Week in Palestine

July 2008

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