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Wednesday June 2, 2010 9:39 AM (EST+7)
Flotilla attack strike shuts Jerusalem’s Old City bazaars

Read more: Jerusalem, strike, boycott, Fredom Flotilla, aid convoy, convoy, economy, Old City

JERUSALEM, June 2 (JMCC) - Jerusalem’s famous Old City souks and bazaars were firmly closed to business on Tuesday in reaction to Israel’s interception of a fleet of ships bringing aid to Gaza.  

From Jaffa Gate, St. David street -- the long passageway usually resplendent with wares -- stood silent, a lone tour group wondering past the grey shutters.

This was the second day of a three-day strike initiated by the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee in protest of the attack. In the Muslim Quarter, the only business transactions were for essential groceries, conducted warily through cracks in doorways. The Christian Quarter was also largely closed.

“My neighbor, he is a Christian, he has not even opened one door,” said Mohammed, owner of a Moroccan stall in the Christian Quarter.

The wider economic impacts of the boycotts are uncertain. For stall owners, the loss in revenue is significant. The rental of some stalls can run $2,500 a month.

“We don’t care about money, we have to do it,” said one stall owner defiantly. But with one small door grudgingly open for business, he confessed that the costs of a full strike were too high. “Yesterday we closed fully, today and tomorrow we just have one small door open.”

For Israel’s ever-growing tourism trade such actions are significant. The Old City’s bazaars form a key part of the tourist experience. For tour companies seeking to keep Israel’s political conflict away from the eyes of paying guests, the strike makes it an obvious reality.

“We need to feel with the people,” explained Mohammed. The sentiment has been echoed in protests across the globe; from London, to Mindano in the Philippines, thousands have taken to the streets in anger at the killing of nine activists.

Israeli forces attacked the flotilla, laden with aid, in international waters as it attempted to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip on Monday.

In Hebron and Bethlehem, some shops also remained closed. In Jerusalem, the city has been placed on high alert, and the response of the Israeli Defense Force has been unsympathetic.

“They just want to make trouble, to close the shops, and then throw stones,” said one IDF soldier patrolling the streets.

Of particular concern for many Jerusalem residents was the injury sustained by Sheikh Raed Salah, the head of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, who was also on the flotilla and how is now being held by Israeli authorities. Salah is behind a major push to bring Arab residents of northern Israel to Jerusalem to pray and buy in the holy city.

“This is the main reason for the boycott,” explained Mohanad, who owns a telephone store near Damascus Gate.

The economic strike is set to end Wednesday but the ramifications of this event may be felt for much longer. There is no word on the street of a specific organized protest. However, as has often occurred in the past, many agree that this week’s Friday prayers may play host to further clashes in Jerusalem.

“Come to Damascus Gate on Friday and you will see,” said a stall owner who preferred not to be named.







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