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If You're in Jerusalem Just Ask for Ibrahim

Ibrahim’s House of Peace in Jerusalem, a refuge for anyone of any religion or nationality. As long as you can put up with his stories…

“Just take a taxi to the Mount of Olives and ask for Ibrahim.” my friend had told me on the phone, “There’s no point giving you his family name as almost everyone there has the same surname.”

Jerusalem isn’t a place I’ve spent much time in – I’ve generally found it to be a pretty tense place where the fault lines of racism and historical prejudice come to a head. The religious Jews walk around in their Polish aristocratic black costumes, segregating themselves from their own society and the Arabic parts of the city are seen as no-go areas by even liberal Israelis.

I kidnapped an Israeli friend to come with me to visit the house of Ibrahim and as we stepped out of the taxi, the call to prayer sounded and I could feel her grip stiffen on my arm. Only a mile away from where she’d been living for a year in the Jerusalem campus, she was now in a foreign land and all the associations with bombs, the enemy and hatred of the Palestinians came flooding back for her.

Ibrahim sent someone to meet us and once we were inside the kitchen and being practically force-fed by our host, my friend began to relax. Inside Ibrahim’s house were some American tourists that he’d abducted that afternoon, a visiting troupe of Brazilian born-again Christians and the odd lost backpacker.

“The local university is always asking me to rent my house out to students and you know, it could bring in a lot of money. But since my grandfather’s time we like to keep the door always open and food aways on the table. This is an international house of peace.” Ibrahim told us, his speech not a little diminished by the thousandth telling.

Ibrahim himself was a Palestinian in his 60’s but who evidently intended to live for another half century and his house was run by volunteers who drifted through. A Hungarian woman who spoke no English or Hebrew insisted on filling our cups each time we took a few sips.

Little tabs were kept on who was sleeping where and when, Ibrahim himself living elsewhere and bunk beds were set up in his ‘house of peace’ to accommodate as many people as possible. A donations basket at the door covered some of the expense and the magic of the house was you met the most unlikely assortment of people.

I hadn’t spoken Portugese in a while so I joined the Brazilians who were heading to a Friday meal with an open-minded rabbi who invited everyone and anyone to come eat and even teach.

“We’re crazy for God. We’re madly in love with Jesus. We’re ready to lose our heads for God.” they assured me with typical Brazilian flamboyancy. Meanwhile their leader, a self-possessed type with the confidence that came from believing he had a direct line to heaven began to put my life in order.

“Now this may come as a surprise but the next time you pass through your country you’re going to stay there for at least 4 months.” he told me.

“Thanks for the advice. Maybe you’d do better to get to know a person first though before giving counsel on his life.”

“But when God talks to me I have to speak!”

We arrived at the rabbi’s house and we were ushered to a back table and plastic plates and cups were handed out, the Kiddush being said over blackcurrant juice and the bread and salt were followed by rice, soup and chicken legs.

The rabbi was American and he invited each group to teach the gathering, provided no mention was made of politics. Amazingly, each time someone rose to speak, everyone kept on talking loudly, despite the rabbi’s pleas for respectful listening. It was his house, he was feeding everyone, he was himself a formidable scholar and yet no one could shut up.

When it came the turn of the Brazilians to teach, Eduardo stood up and told a tale from the Old Testament – the only Bible to a Jew – and the allegory was that sometimes people must look to unexpected sources for their nourishment. I.e Christianity.

Dodging Arabic teenagers who threw stones at our legs on the walk back up the Mount of Olives, we headed back to Ibrahim’s place, a refuge from the mad desert religions who could barely agree to disagree.