Jerusalem Stays

Ibrahim’s Peace House in At-Tur

I want to share with you one of the greatest experiences I’ve experienced lately. A few weeks ago I’ve started working with a friend of mine on a new Pilgrimage trail to Jerusalem. He suggested that the trail will pass through the Arab neighborhood, At-Tur, situated on Mount of Olives. “But besides the trail, I want you to meet someone I know,” he told me. I didn’t know who will it be, but I said, “Sure, I’m always happy to meet new people.”

This person lives in At-Tur. At-Tur is an Arab neighborhood in the eastern part of Jerusalem. If my friend hadn’t come with me, I wouldn’t have gone there as an Israeli Jew. People imagine Eastern Jerusalem as scary. We hear that the Arabs there don’t like us, that it’s dangerous to walk there, because they might throw stones on us or hurt us in some other way. Egged buses refuse to drive up there, because there were times that some of the neighborhood’s residents threw stones on their buses… So, yeah, I wouldn’t have gone there. But I figured it would be a great chance to see what is really happening in At-Tur if I go with my friend.

We drove up there with his car. The streets looked fine. I was expecting something worse. Maybe it is a bit greyer than the rest of Jerusalem, but nothing too awful. Kids were making their way to their schools. Kids were the main ones on the street. Then we entered a side street and parked someplace. We walked a bit to the house, which is located at 31 Saleman Al-Farisi Street (סלמאן אל-פאריסי), went up the stairs and knocked on the door.

Someone opened and my friend asked: “Is Ibrahim here?”

“No, he is not here. You should call him,” answered that someone.

My friend gave Ibrahim a call and Ibrahim said he’s on his way. So we entered the house to wait for him inside. And WOW! What a house! It isn’t grand, but it’s beautiful. The walls are covered with pictures of Ibrahim, his family and people he met throughout the years, including all kinds of peacemakers. Stickers bearing the slogans, “Will work for PEACE”, “May Peace Prevail on Earth”, “Yes to Coexistence, No to Violence” decorate the walls as well. Letters to Ibrahim are also everywhere…  There’s a huge dining table in the middle of the room. One of the dwellers of the house asked us if we would like tea while we wait.

The Dining Space

And we waited, sipping tea, until finally the door opened and an elder man with a red keffiyeh entered, one small step at a time. He looked at us, spread his arms wide and said with a wide smile: “AHLAN WA SAHLAN!” which means “Hello” or “Welcome” in Arabic. My friend hurried to greet him and I came up to him, too. We shook hands and I immediately felt welcome.

We sat and had a long chat. Ibrahim told me about his life, how he believes in peacemaking, about the need for people to learn about one another and become brothers and sisters. He talked about the peacehouse also. It’s a house he opened about 40 years ago for travelers or people who had no place to stay while in Jerusalem. People who come pay whatever they can afford. Some don’t pay at all.

As we were talking, the dwellers of the house started sitting around the table. It was morning, so they came for breakfast. One of the people who stays in the house is Irina. She came to the peacehouse about 3 years ago, stayed until today and helps Ibrahim run the place. She made a huge tray of pasta and said to us: “Eat!” Ibrahim nodded and said: “EAT!” as well, so we ate and had some coffee…

“I’m afraid I might have to close the house,” Ibrahim said, “I’m in debts and barely have the money.” He built a house for himself and his children and grandchildren. Getting building permits in Eastern Jerusalem is a difficult procedure, so many of the Arabs there decide to build without permits and hope for the best. Ibrahim also built without permits and then found out that the fine was huge – 75,000 dollars! Now he is struggling to pay the fine and keep the peacehouse operating.

He shared some more troubles. Like many other Arabs in Eastern Jerusalem, Ibrahim doesn’t have an Israeli passport nor citizenship. He has a Travel Document, that looks like a passport, but isn’t really one. The Travel Document was first issued in 1942, when the British ruled Jerusalem. He showed me the document he has today. Next to Nationality is written “Jordanian” and next to Place of Issue, “Israel”. “I’ve been arrested many times while travelling around the world, because the people at the airport thought that my Travel Document was suspicous,” he laughed. Without an Israeli citizenship he can’t vote for the Prime Minister of Israel and he can’t leave the country for over a year and then come back to live here.

“I sent two of my children to study abroad,” he told me, “And when they finished their studies and wanted to come back to live in Israel, the government said they can’t. They can only come to visit, but can never live here again.”

So it was an interesting talk. I have never imagined I would be able to sit and talk with an Arab Palestinian living in At-Tur in Eastern Jerusalem, in a beautiful peacehouse surrounded by travelers and people from all over the world.  When I came back home, I wanted to learn more. I searched for stories on Ibrahim Abu El-Hawa on the web. Then I got to this site, Peace for Ibrahim. People can read Ibrahim’s Peacehouse story and donate if they want.

I’m attaching a video about Ibrahim’s Peacehouse from 2011. Things have changed a bit. Ibrahim is still standing, but is having a hard time walking. The house has been refurbished and repaired a bit. The restroom looks much better today than in the video. There’s also a wonderful rooftop, with views towards Augusta Victoria. This house is so peaceful, literally.

Inside the Peacehouse

You’re welcome to come and visit the Peacehouse and see it for yourselves. The address is סלמאן אל פאריסי 31 in the At-Tur neighborhood on Mount of Olives. The door is always open, literally. You can come to chat with the people, eat or stay. If you want to check beforehand if there are available places or set up a meal, you can contact Irina at +972-503077383. And don’t forget to leave a donation!

Fun facts & enrichment

There’s Going to be Peace in Israel

Peace? In Israel? A few weeks ago I discovered about a movement, that has been active, it turns out, since 2014. The movement is named “Women Wage Peace” (נשים עושות שלום; نساء يصنعن السلام) and it is led by decisive women, Israelis and Palestinians, who want to stop the violence between our two nations. 

During two full weeks this October, thousands of women and men marched throughout Israel, as part of the “March of Hope”. The goal – to activate pressure on the two leaders, Netanyahu and Abu Mazen, to get to a peace agreement. I sadly couldn’t make it to any march, but yesterday I did attend an interesting event of “Women Wage Peace” – the screening of the film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”.

The screening took place in Cinemateque Jerusalem, a cute movie theatre near the First Station in Jerusalem. I made my way there by bus and accidently got down at the wrong station, so I had to walk through the First Station to get there. Then I found out that another march was going on that day- “The Jerusalem March”, which is an annual event. I saw a group of marchers from Brazil and some marchers from Japan. It seemed like I arrived just at the end of the march. It was a nice thing to see…

And then I got to Cinemateque. I thought that not a lot of people would come to the screening, but surprisingly, the movie theatre was quite full. There were mainly elder people. And then the head of the Central Branch of the movement got up on the stage and introduced herself and the movement a bit, and talked about Sukot and the “Peace Suka”. She said that she was really excited to be there that evening and that the rally, which took place the day before, in front of the Prime Minister’s House in Jerusalem, was a huge success. 20,000 people took part in that rally! That’s a huge number. Last year, she said, they were only 3,000 people in the rally.

So, after the introduction, they played the documentary film, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”, which tells the story of the women of Liberia, who did everything to finish with the civil war that took place in Liberia for years. They didn’t stop until they achieved their goal. They couldn’t watch more children die. Read more about their action here. The film was screened as an inspiration for us. If they could do it, why won’t we be able to achieve peace? The situation in Liberia was much worse than what’s going on here… here it’s a piece of cake compared to the civil war that took place in Liberia.

After the screening, they showed us Leymah Gbowee’s speech from the rally the other day. To sum it up, she said that we need to know each other. We – the Palestinians and Israelis – have many stereotypes about each other, which make us recoil from each other. We should speak with one another, get to know each other, understand that we both are human beings and we both have hearts and feelings and hopes, and only after we’ll trust each other and understand that we both have compassion, will we be able to make peace. She’s right. We know nothing about each other, and I suppose that both sides live in an environment that encourages fear of the other side. The newspapers are full of it, the leaders aren’t pushing us to get to know each other, but rather to stay apart, and in schools, they don’t teach us about the other’s culture, they don’t talk with us about hope, they don’t encourage us to love. And love is the key here.

People will doubt us, they will discourage us, but if we’re serious about this, we’ll get that peace agreement. The two nations have power. If the people will want peace, it doesn’t matter what the leaders want – they’ll have to fulfill the wishes of the two nations. 

Watch the full Women Wage Peace Rally here (in Hebrew, but you can get the atmosphere from the photage):

Wish us luck!



P.S – I must share  a funny (and dissapointing) moment with you! I wanted to double check how to write “decisive women” in English, so I wrote the word in Hebrew in Google and beside it “translation”. Google decided that I don’t want to know how to say “decisive women”. Instead, it decided to show me the results for “hopeless women”. That was unbelievable! It seems like Google doesn’t think women can be decisive. Well, it’s very wrong!