House Hunting in Jerusalem

I love watching reality TV. Whether it’s “Cupcake Wars,” “Storage Wars,” or “Shipping Wars,” I just can’t get enough.  And no, I don’t just like them watching them because I’m an Arab and they all have the word “war” in them.

A particular favorite of mine is “House Hunters.”  In this show, the cameras follow an individual, couple, or family searching for a home.  As a Palestinian, I am familiar with this concept.  We have been searching for 64 years.

Anyway, each show features three properties, and at the end of the broadcast, the buyer chooses one as his new residence.  The show is extremely popular and has produced an interesting spinoff, “House Hunters International.”  In this version, the buyer looks to buy a home in a different country.  A few nights ago, I happened to be watching when a very interesting episode aired… “House Hunters International: Jerusalem.”  A very nice Orthodox Jewish woman named Hayley was looking to relocate from New Jersey to Israel.  She wanted her children to have the experience of growing up in the Holy Land.

Hayley arrived in Israel to look at three houses. I imagine she had an easier time getting through Tel Aviv airport security than I do. She made her way to Jerusalem and began her search.  The first house Hayley looked at was in the “fashionable neighborhood of Baka.”  Wealthy Muslim and Christian Palestinian families established Baka in the 1920’s.  After 1948, Baka ended up in West Jerusalem, inside Israel.  As a result of this development, in Baka, “the population changed.” (Wikipedia)  “Changed” is a nice way of putting it.  In reality, the Arab families who built those houses were expelled.

The second and third homes Hayley looked at were located in the German Colony, what the narrator referred to as a “pre-war neighborhood.”  Before 1948, affluent Arab families who had built mansions there called it home.  After 1948, “the abandoned homes were used to house new immigrants.” (Thanks again Wikipedia)  “Abandoned” is a nice way of putting it.  In reality, the German Colony was ethnically cleansed of its Arab population.

All three houses were brimming with Arab architecture. As Hayley walked through the homes, I heard things like:

“She wants a traditional, old Jerusalem home.”
“This house was built in the 1920’s.”
“It’s got the tiles, built in the old style.”
“The arches… love it!”
“This is authentic.”

For those of you don’t speak “Israeli,” let me translate:

“Traditional, old”: Palestinian
“built in the 1920’s”: Palestinian
“Tiles in the old style”: Palestinian
“Arches:” Palestinian
“Authentic”: Palestinian

I guess that even though Israel definitely didn’t want us there, they really liked our style. And I don’t blame them.  We Palestinians are pretty cool.  They even made falafel and hummus part of Israeli national cuisine.  It’s not that surprising actually.  When you can steal someone’s home without thinking twice, stealing the food is really easy.

After the 1967 war, Israel “united” East and West Jerusalem. The Palestinian residents who remain hold Jerusalem ID cards.  They are “permanent residents” of Israel, pay Israeli taxes, are citizens of no country, and do not vote in national elections.  We have “permanent residents” here in America, but they came from Mexico.  The “permanent residents” of Jerusalem came from Jerusalem.  They must periodically renew their status, and if they are absent for more than seven years, they forever lose their “right.”  Of course, Jews can become full citizens of Israel whenever they like.  And they can buy abandoned homes with authentic tiles and arches.

Israel looks to rid itself of all Palestinian presence, and nowhere is this more evident than in Jerusalem.  All Israeli politicians proclaim that Jerusalem will remain the “eternal and undivided capital of Israel.”  Simply put, it is Israel’s view that the city cannot be Arab in any capacity.  It’s as if we were never there. But the authentic tiles in Baka don’t lie. They tell the world that Palestinians walked atop them. The stones of the walls don’t lie either.  They tell the world that they were set by Palestinians who call Jerusalem home.  And the arches don’t lie.  They tell the new residents, as they peer out onto the Old City, that no amount of denial can erase their Palestinian creators.

As that episode came to a close, another one immediately followed.  It was a “House Hunters: International” marathon.  Again, an Orthodox Jewish American couple was looking to relocate to a new country.  This time, they were searching for a house in Costa Rica.  Before I turned off the TV, I wished them the best of luck.

About Amer Zahr 181 Articles
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."


  1. I really enjoyed your article. I have done quite a bit of Middle Eastern Travel, and I do have a good many Palasitinian friends. My back ground is a little Syrian/Egyptian. I have relatives who are Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic. I am no where near a history major… so I just wanted to understand things from your point of view. All Palestinians are frustrated that they don’t have a “Palestine” so to speak.

    I don’t agree with Isreal ridding itself of Palestinian presesnce, architecture, or whatever. Anything in the culture should actually reflect

    I am a bit confused… didn’t the Palestinians attack Isreal and lose their land in the process? That is , unfortunatly, how it became Isreali and the Palestine non-existant. Also, many a time, Isreal has offered Palestinians land to call the “Palestine”… which Palestinians refused because they wanted more.

    I am not a Jew. I am not Isreali, I am trying to be objective… (as my goal is for us both to learn from each other) but Isreal is surround my many Arab nations who want nothing more than death of a Zionist state. I think Isreal is being pretty nice, having offered Palestinians land back, land they WON when Palestinians attacked.

    As Salamu Alaykum


  2. Amer, the “translations” are ingenious. The delicate ironic touch with which you convey the ugly horrors of exile, theft and arrogance impact the reader much more deeply than words of accusation and vituperation. To all those who wonder why those evil Arabs want to destroy the Zionist state, reread the article. Then look up further historical information on the fate of the Arabs living in Palestine from the baleful Balfour Document of 1917 to the present day reality. And do avoid sites like Masada2000. I highly recommend the 1923 essay “On the Iron Wall (original Russian: “O zheleznoy stene”),” composed in 1923 by the father of Revisionist Zionism, Zeev Jabotinsky. Better yet, start out with a good book, like “One Palestine, Complete,” by Tom Segev.

  3. Another great essay cousin. Sorry I never comment but I do read them all.
    I do hope Bernie does some research….
    Oh, and Mexicans were here first too. At least on my end of the country.

  4. Ahhh… Bernie you are well schooled in what the western media and conservative Americans want you to know. I would respectfully suggest a more thorough exposure to all sides of the situation before rendering an opinion.

  5. HI Bernie
    Here’s a short reply devoid of the charming humor of Amer.
    1. In the early 20th century, European Zionists came in and began buying up and eventually taking over land. In 1948 it was the Palestinians who were defending their home land against Zionists who were trying to create their own state there. Ironically many were socialists with high ideals, I don’t really understand how they were able to not see the occupants of the land. Some visionary Jews warned that they were creating a problem that could never be resolved.

    The Zionists were victorious and “encouraged” (through massacres, by telling poeple they had to get out of military zones and general fear), many Palestinians to flee the war zone. (Yes, invading Arab armies also encouraged civilians to leave the dangerous areas until peace would be restored). So what? Those who fled were never allowed to come back and their property, land, bank accounts, stores, were confiscated as “abandoned” property.

    Later the West Bank which had been under Jordanian control and Gaza under Egyptian control, were conquered by Isreal during the 1967 war.
    If Israel had been smart, they would have pulled back after the war , exacted some concessions,
    such as help from Jordan with the Palestinian Liberation Front, and lived in relative peace ever after.
    But that’s not what happened.
    If a nation conquers land, under international law, it is not allowed to place settlers there(i.e. colonialism)..
    which is what Isreal began doing quite soon.

    Now Israel could have declared all of Palestine as part of Israel and then made all residents Israeli citizens. But it didn’t want to do that because Israel is a democracy and it’s supposed to be a jewish state. WIth all those Palestinians, how could they keep it as a Jewish state with privilages for Jews.
    So they’re stuck with this “headache”.
    They don’t want to give back the land and are settling it as quickly and descretely as possible. And they call it ” the Palestinian territories.”

    2. In negotiations Israel has not offered to return the conquered land because they have all those settlements and some important aquifers that they depend on. What they have offered is parcels of land, bantustans which could not be made into a functioning state.
    The best Israeli offer was at Taba, but this offer was withdrawn once it was clear that Nathanyahoo would win the election. Could Arafat have jumped on that offer right away? I don’t think it could have gone through. But, in any case he didn’t because he was gun shy after Oslo.
    (Palestinians really soured on negotiations after the Oslo Accords, the signd peace agreement during which Israel built more new settlements than ever before. Some peace).

    That’s just part of the story. The seizing of Arab land, homes, olive groves, and imprisoning of people, the checkpoints, etc, are even more parts of the story.
    Ironically the Israelis complain that the Palestinians don’t depict them in a positive fashion in their text books. I wonder why not.

  6. Bernie

    your comment is so naive, I wounder if you ever researched any written material before you made your less than intelegent remarks.

    You may want to read a book called “The Palestinians” by Jonathan Dimbebly, a British author. Taking into account, the British were the source of the Palestinian Misery, this book written by one of their own is a perfect condemnation of the Palestiana Tragedy which can only be described as the “bigest theft in history”. Steeling a country.

    Palestinians have and continues to be attacked daily by the Zionist occupying forces to rid the land of Palestine of it’s people. For the last 64 years, this has proving a failure and resulted in a stronger and determination by the rightful owners to resist such tactic as best as they can.

    Palestine will always be for the palestinans no matter what the Zionist’s do. It is only time before they realize that they cannot maintain their existance in a place they do not belong to.

  7. Amer-Priceless . . .I love how you address the realities of “slant” in reporting. Sort of like if someone blows up themselves . .the media quickly needs to define the bomber as a “islamic extremist.” But no one says, Timothy McVeigh. . . .. Christian extremist blew up the murrah federal building. . . . .

    I like how words like quaint, Old, and the like. . great way to “see through” the junk, tell HGTV about their “glossing over.”

  8. When you speak of the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem in the 1920’s and 1930’s, Jews there were Palesinians too. There was a war. The residents of these homes (the neighborhoods were mixed Palestinian Jews and Palestinian Arabs) fled. Who could blame them? There was a war going on. Populations were exchanged. The Jews of Iraq and other Muslim countries were expelled and fled also. Many of them landed in the houses of Palestinian Arabs. One could say that many Americans are experience similar expulsion; loosing their homes to an economic war, through foreclosure. Do you think it’s any less painful loosing your home to a bank? Yet, do people who loose their homes that way hold on to the keys of those homes until the next generation, hoping to one day move back? Population exchanges and population movement has been going on since the beginnng of time. Holding anger and grudges does no one good, most of all the anger holder. You never lived in any of those houses and I doubt your parents did either. Isn’t it time to move on?

  9. When Isael annexed East Jerusalem, it gave Arabs there the option to become citizens and many refused, that is why they are permanent residents.

  10. I was just watching this episode for the first time and couldn’t even get through it.

    The revisionism was outrageous. How do they think they’re any different from Holocaust deniers when they pretend no one existed on that land prior to 1948, but them? No one had happiness, family or a life on that land?

    I hope you sent your piece to them.

    The woman was a disgrace with some her comments.

  11. It would be amazing if the US who is at the forefront of human rights issues around the world did to Israel what it does to China, Russia and to many countries around the world who abuse human rights issues. The US will br impacted by such contraversies and will not be able to defend itself on the world yard, when the third world countries riches and powers exceed thise in the first world and its bound to happen as history has shown us.

    We are weakening our position here in the US by supporting a corrupt country such as Israel. If we champion ourselves on human rights, then surely we cannot turn a blind eye away from such an abuser of human rights like Israel. No benefit comes to the US from supporting Israel. Please indicate one benefit to me that comes from Israel towards any country. None that i could think of. If they are the protector of the Holly Land where were they for 2000 years?

  12. Amir, you a good writer, but very one sided in your analysis of the situation, May I remind you that Jews were a majority of the population in the Ottoman census of 1900, so there is a long a substantial Jewish history there as well. May I also remind you that after the 1948 200,000 Arabs were left in Israel and 0 (that zero) Jews were left in the Jordanian and Egyptian sections under their control. All the Jews (that’s everyone of them) were expelled. So please do not lecture about expelling when Palestinians have dirty hands. Also, as pointed out above, any Jerusalem resident can have citizenship in Israel. It is a lie to complain that they cannot vote. Yes they can, if they choose to become citizens, they will have full voting rights.

  13. It was “ethnically cleansed” as the Palestinian leaders asked people to evacuate with a promise of the ability to return after the attack on Israel was successful. That was a mistake on the part of the Palestinian leadership, not an Israeli political policy.

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