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Page last updated at 07:00 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 08:00 UK

Living in Jerusalem's Old City

The Old City of Jerusalem - containing sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam - is often viewed as being at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Divided into Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Armenian quarters, it is an ethnic, cultural, political and religious mix. Here, some of the Old City's residents describe life behind its ancient walls.

Eli George KouzEli George KouzAdnan AweidhAdnan AweidhGaro SandrouniGaro SandrouniKitty SevilliaKitty Sevillia

ELI GEORGE KOUZ, 55, SHOP OWNER, CHRISTIAN QUARTER
The Old City is full of crazy and fanatical people, and the Jews and Muslims are getting more and more fundamentalist.

Eli George Kouz
The Old City should be an open place, like the Vatican, says Eli
You see them walking round in their costumes, as if their way of life is the only right one. I don't like that. We should all be the same.

I belong to the Syrian Orthodox Church but life in the Old City can be very difficult for Christians. The fighting is between Jews and Muslims but the Christians get caught in the middle. It is far better to keep out of it.

I don't like living in the Old City - it's very difficult to make a living. People here depend on tourism. It's okay if you're a tour guide - you get a big commission - but there are too many store owners who work like gangsters. Because of them tourists are scared to enter my shop because they think they're going to get hassled.

I work 12 hours a day because you don't know when customers are going to come and buy. In the Old City business is bad, but if you go outside the walls to the new part, the shops there are doing really well.

Life here is not good either - there's too much hatred between Muslims and Jews. I have to pass through all the other quarters to get to my house and I have to hope I'm not going to get caught up in any trouble.

In the future I'd hate to see the Old City divided. It should be an open place, with no shops or houses even - like the Vatican - just a place for tourists to visit. But how can it be the City of God when there are police, soldiers and weapons everywhere, and people are always getting pushed around?

ADNAN AWEIDH, 53, HOTEL WORKER, MUSLIM QUARTER

I was born in the Old City and my family here goes back 700 years.

It's such an important place for Muslims - it's the second holiest place after Mecca. Jerusalem is like our water and we are like its fish - we can't live outside it.

Adnan Aweidh
Adnan says relations between Jews and Muslims in the Old City are poor
The Muslim Quarter is very special but it can sometimes be like a big prison - it was more open and free in the 1960s and 70s.

We don't feel very safe here. Violence can happen here anytime, even with the police - if you even look like an Arab they will always ask you for your ID and question you, and if you don't have your ID card they will take you away.

Apart from that, life is very good here. I have my coffee and nargillah and sit with my friends. I go to all the different quarters and I have a lot of friends in the Armenian Quarter in particular.

Relations are also very good with the Christians - we eat and socialise together - but it's not so good with the Jews. Politics makes a difference between people here. Before 1948 we lived with the Jews like one big family, but since then there has been a lot of hatred.

I like living in the Muslim Quarter - it's always busy and everyone from around the world passes through.

We have everything we need here, nothing is missing. But it's very expensive in the Old City - you have to have at least two jobs and your wife must also work just to make ends meet.

GARO SANDROUNI, 53, SHOP OWNER, ARMENIAN QUARTER

The Armenian community has been in Jerusalem since the fourth century.

There are only about 1,500 Armenians here now but the advantage of that is everyone knows everyone else.

Garo Sandrouni
Armenians try to avoid taking sides between Jews and Arabs, says Garo
We have schools, museums, churches, seminaries and institutions here - we're very well-organised for such a small community.

Living in the Old City has got worse and worse. It's attractive to three major religions but there's not enough space. Whenever there are religious festivals - which is all the time - thousands of people come here, which makes life difficult. You can't move, you can't take your car out and you really have to plan in advance how you're going to get around.

I have seen lots of changes here in my lifetime. There have been too many renovations in the Old City. It was completely different when I was young. Even the entrances to the Old City were different in those days.

There have been political changes too - the intifadas [Palestinian uprisings] changed the atmosphere here. People went on strike and shops closed down.

It has become more and more tense, people have become more fanatic and everyone is pouring towards the Old City - so we end up getting all the problems here.

We can live freely as Armenians though - there is no problem with worshipping, for instance.

The Armenians are friendly with all the other quarters - we border the Jewish and Christian Quarters and we have good relations with them.

Of course, everyone tries to get you on their side - sometimes we sympathise with the Arabs, sometimes with the Jews, but as Armenians we always try to stay neutral.

KITTY SEVILLA, 80, RESTAURANT OWNER, JEWISH QUARTER

I moved here from Tel Aviv in 1976. My father was born in the Old City and had always told us what it was like, but we couldn't visit here before 1967.

Kitty Sevilla
Kitty has seen the Old City transform over the past three decades
I love everything about living here. It's a very special place because it is where Jews had the Biblical temples. Being here now goes all the way back to our ancestors and you really feel that. We can be free and be Jewish here.

The only problem with living here is the restrictions during festivals. Sometimes it's difficult to get around.

We don't keep separate from the other quarters. We used to go to the other parts a lot but what we don't like is the threat of terrorism, so now we only go when we have to. There's no hostility between Jews and Arabs here but you never know when something might happen.

The Old City has changed a lot in the 30 years I have been here. In 1976 they were building a lot in the Jewish Quarter - there were lots of donkeys carrying the materials because in those days the streets here were very narrow. It's also become a lot more expensive to buy property here.

There are many more people here now too. Even just 10 years ago a lot of people were too afraid to come here, but that's changed now.

I feel safe living here - there are lots of police and soldiers around, but that's not unique to the Old City - it's the same all over Israel.

I like the different people in the Old City. It's a peaceful place to live - all the nationalities get on here. I don't want to see Jerusalem divided, regardless of what other people say. If you want peace here, things should stay the way they are.

Pictures and interviews by Raffi Berg.





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