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Instead of answering, Pascale points to signs on the walls that look very much like street signs, but aren’t. These signs display Quranic quotes, and Pascale explains them: “The Islamic Movement put hundreds of Quranic quotes all over the Old City about 10 years ago, replacing the Jewish signs.” The Israeli authorities, she makes a point of telling me, let the new signs stand.
“The Israelis are afraid that if they take down the signs they would be filmed by European peace activists who will then use the material to accuse Israel of disrespecting Islam and Muslims,” she says.
I bid Pascale goodbye and proceed to explore the Old City on my own.
Moments later I spot a gorgeous mosque, one of the fancier ones that I’ve seen so far. But unlike Al-Aqsa, for example, here you don’t have to be a Muslim to walk in. You can be a Jew, a Christian, an Atheist, or whatever, and you can enter provided you have a few shekels in your pocket. Of course, no matter how much money you pay, you must observe the rules of this holy place. For example, you must leave your shoes outside before you enter; this is a house of prayer, after all. And if you happen to be a woman, you must wear additional pieces of clothes available at the entrance to cover your arms, shoulders or any other part of your exposed flesh.
For a moment, I think that I have just been transported to the Jewish ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, a place known to protect God from tempting women, but no: I am at Al-Jazzar Mosque — “The Butcher’s Mosque,” in simple English.
I walk around the grounds, marveling at its sheer beauty, when suddenly I encounter a little grave. Ahmad al-Jazzar is buried here. I close my eyes and think about the stories I have heard about the Butcher, next to whose remains I stand. I rush back to Waled’s place. Sometimes, stinky rooms can be quite comforting.
Tuvia Tenenbom is the author of the Der Spiegel best seller “I Sleep in Hitler’s Room.” He is currently in Israel working on his next book, “Alone Among Jews.”