Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Jerusalem's Gypsies

The most interesting new thing I learned at the June 28 rededication of Herod's Gate was this:

The man delivering a speech in this photo is gypsy mukhtar of the Old City, Abed-Alhakim Mohammed Deeb Salim, whose community resides in the Muslim Quarter’s Bab al-Hutta section near Herod’s Gate.

Who knew?? Not me!
Apparently somewhere between 600 and 1000 gypsies live inside the walls of the Old City.
Larger populations live in Judea, Samaria, Gaza, and the West Bank.
Some think that the Domari (the name for Middle Eastern gypsies) migrated from India over a thousand years ago, while some say from the Arabian Peninsula.
Here they have assimilated to the extent that they are now Arabic-speaking Muslims.
Only the elderly still remember the Domari language.

This present mukhtar (being interviewed above) is the grandson of the mukhtar who led the community in the early 20th century when they were still nomadic, traveling between Jerusalem and towns in the West Bank, holding occupations such as blacksmiths, silversmiths, horse dealers and trainers, singers and street musicians, dancers, and animal healers, belt makers and tattoo artists.
But also, it is said, some excelled as pickpockets and beggars.
The Dom then settled in a tent encampment in Jerusalem, just north of Damascus Gate.
In the early 1940s the British military administration suspected them of hiding weapons used in the Palestinian resistance against British rule, and their encampment was dissolved.
The gypsies began to find rented accommodations within the Old City, turned to paid occupations, and became sedentary.
Many of the women and children were beggars until 1967. Those who did not flee during the Six Day War soon began receiving some Israeli social benefits when the Old City came under our administration.
However, there is still poverty. Apparently because they are poor and are "different," the Dom kids feel discrimination and humiliation (e.g. called to the front of the classroom to be called "nawar," or dirty Gypsy, in front of all the students) in the Arab schools and many drop out. The illiteracy rate within the community is almost 40%!
The Domari Society of Gypsies in Jerusalem was founded in 1999 and strives to help the community and to keep their handicrafts, customs, food, and language alive.
They have a wonderful website. Please pay them a visit.
Haaretz has a good article about the community called "Linguistic embers of a colorful past."
And an American student who spent several months with the Domari Society blogs about them here and here.
UPDATE Oct. 27, 2013:  A good new Ynet article about the Jerusalem Gypsies today.


Rob and Mandy said...

This is amazing, never heard about them. Makes the israeli society even richer.

Hels said...

No, I hadn't heard of the Domari community either. How many Doms live in Jerusalem?

Cloudia said...

Who knew?

Aloha from Waikiki :)

Comfort Spiral

spacedlaw said...

They have been about and around for centuries, yet the discrimination - worldwide - is still thriving.

Robin said...

How fascinating, I'd never heard of them either, and I live less than an hour from there.

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Turquoise Diaries said...

It looks like they are everywhere. In Istanbul all the flower sellers on the streets are Gypsies. I always find gthem very colorful

Reader Wil said...

Discrimination is one of the worst vices of humanity. This is a very interesting post, Dina! And very informative!

Dina said...

Thanks for all your comments, friends.

Hels, every source I found (and there weren't many) said a different estimate. Probably 200 gypsy families live in the Old City. Some say 600 individuals, some say 1000, others say 1500.

Kay said...

This is such an interesting post, Dina. I didn't realize there were gypsies in Israel, too. How unfortunate that they are suffering socially and financially.