Jerusalem still speaks Arabic

It doesn’t matter where anyone builds their diplomatic palaces. Jerusalem still speaks Arabic. I’ve heard her.

Hundreds of restaurants offer falafel, hummus, shawarma, pomegranate juice, and knafeh. Believe me. I’ve tried them all. But there aren’t any delis. No corned beef sandwiches on rye. No bagel shops. No lox. Don’t get me wrong. All those things are delicious. They’re just not there. Because Jerusalem eats rice and yogurt with every meal. She uses bread as a spoon. She checks her teeth for leftover tabbouli. She’s an Arab.

Certain aromas waft through the air. Cumin. Coriander. Nutmeg. Cinnamon. Turmeric. Sumac. Allspice. Those spices don’t come from Poland and Brooklyn. Her women push their herbs in her markets. Thyme. Sage. Basil. Mint. Lots of mint. Those herbs don’t come from Russia and Miami Beach. I’ve hung out with her. She drinks coffee that’s almost too strong for human consumption. She eats parsley-infused meats. She sweats garlic like the rest of us. She’s an Arab.

It’s easy to get confused in her alleyways. They meander every which way, twisting and turning, each corner bringing a new little journey. But if you ask for directions from one part of the Old city to another, her children will just tell you, “Just go straight.” Jerusalem is still an Arab. I promise you.

Look in her closets. She collects ornately embroidered gowns.
Visit her weddings. She “changes the light bulb” when she dances.
Go out to dinner with her. She fights over the bill.

Talk to her for more than five minutes. She asks you if you’re married. And if you’re not… Well, then prepare yourself for a much longer, and quite uncomfortable, conversation.

She wears a keffiyeh. Sometimes it’s because she’s protesting. And sometimes it’s just to keep warm.

When she has some time for herself to listen to some music, she sings along with Fairouz, Abdel Halim, and Um Kalthum.

Jerusalem’s been Arab for 1400 years. Crusader campaigns tried to change her. It didn’t work. Israeli colonization, settlement, and profanity have tried to change her. They’ve failed terribly.  Some stuttering speech about an embassy won’t succeed either.

She’s been through decades of foreign occupation, more than once.  She has suffered the attempted theft of her heritage. She has watched the dispossession, expulsion, and looting of her children’s lives, homes, and histories.  She has even endured the propaganda that she still solely belongs to someone who doesn’t remotely understand the beautiful creature she has grown into today. Yet, despite these attempts to defeat her, Jerusalem still speaks Arabic. With a Palestinian accent.

She’s one of us. Don’t worry. She can handle this.

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. Arabic is my language. Palestine is my blood! I was born in Ramleh and raised in all the memories of my Homeland from proud nationalistic parents in our Diaspora! My heart beat always a little faster when I see pictures of Jerusalem and hear the call to prayer from the minerat and the ringing of church bells in harmony! I first visited Jerusalem when a was in my early twenties over fifty years ago. I can still feel the cobbled stones iof the Old City beneath my feet and smell the freshly baked Kaek… I can still hear the street vendors, see the Muslim and Christian places of worship, walk the Via Dolorosa and be a part of my ancestry. This will remain forever ❣️ And Lufe goes on and the Struggle continues ….. Until Victory becomes international news RFA

  2. Well done Mr. Amer Zahr for this great piece of writing.

    Thousands of years of history will not be erased by 100 years of nonsense while our society is ill. Over 200 years of Muslim, Christian and Jewish Arabic culture of this great city will not be influenced by a few million misled East European and western immigrants. They are misled by those who cannot distinguish between religion and statehood, and have never really understood how different religions and good people have always preferred to cohabit instead of fight over land or claim what is not theirs, and be exclusive instead of inclusive in their lifestyles.

    I really never liked the two state solution anyway! Now the solution shall have to be a one democratic state, won’t it? I wonder who the majority will eventually be in the long run?! Also, I wonder if the world would accept such a single state not being democratic, and for millions of indigenous Arabs in it remaining oppressed without full political rights. Now the Quds people may join them, and one wonders where the good news for the other side is?! The is the end of us losing more and more as we have been, and the start of them paying for it for a long long time. May it be merciful for them and peaceful when they get eventually persuaded. I really detest the historic unfair revenge/oppression of them which has happened in the past. Never humane, and never by us by the way, and hopefully none in the future.

    Long live falafel and shawarma and long live Al-Quds. I await the real popular intifadeh with anticipation – the people will need to and they will rise and ask for their rights and they will have the whole world with them.

    Hopefully we can see it before we die.

    • 1000 x this – a one state solution where religion is not a prerequisite. Decolonisation done w/ love & respect for all… Meaning the power back to the indigenous w/ love & respect for everyone else there… as in what South Africa accomplished. That is my prayer… inshaallah…

  3. Beautiful turns of phrase here in this one Amer & funny…

    What was our go to dance move w/ our hands called before the invention of the light bulb?

    I am named after St.Zoé (Zoa/Zoya) of Jerusalem…

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