December 1917: it’s a quiet day at the market. A clearly excited Jewish resident jumps up and down. I ask the stupidly happy guy what makes him so joyful. ‘The Turks are gone’! Now that is what I call breaking non-fake news! Through Jaffa Gate, British general Allenby makes a victorious entry on foot into the Old City. It really is a historic moment: 400 years of Turkish rule have come to an end. The British promise public security, improved highways improved, clean streets and revitalization of commerce. Hopefully, the future looks a little bit brighter again, albeit under the British Mandate.
The exhausted Holy City is really yearning for better times. Like the market, Jerusalem is a messy and desolate place, with visible poverty and famine all around. As I walk around it is as if Jerusalem has become a murky, grey and depressed place. The Turks neglected the city under their rule and it has lost a third of its Jewish population during this Great War. Poor Yosef Rivlin must be turning in his grave when he sees what has happened to his first neighborhood Nahalat Shiva. Brothels and local prostitutes, in desperate need for some money, replace the hopes and dreams of 1860’s. This once idealistic neighborhood is chosen by the British authorities as one of the locations where prostitution is allowed, because they don’t want to come eye to eye with some of the 500 prostitutes behind the City Walls. So, yes, any sign of positive news is very much welcomed.
Somehow it seems that positive news is not allowed to last very long. The message from the new military governor Ronald Storrs is painful: “The Turks don’t have the reputation of leaving much behind them that is eatable.” Since the Turks have fled, the little food that they left behind is only reachable for the financially happy few. I ask my modest lemon seller why his stuff has become so expensive. ‘Feel free to buy elsewhere. Ha, ha, ha, ha’. He laughs loudly in an intimidating manner, straight to my face. This nasty man is aware of his power, even if it is only lemon power. In these harsh times he shows his true face and I know my time will come when I will laugh at him.
Storrs’ words reflect perfectly my feelings after visiting my lemon guy at the market: “The fellahin may have hidden reserve stocks and they absolutely decline to sell, except against payment in gold”. So, what to do next? The governor turns to the famous general. Once again it’s Allenby-to-the rescue! The general manages to get lorry loads of wheat into the markets of Jerusalem. Thanks to this effort things start to improve, tiny step by tiny step. For Storrs this is the right moment to visit the market: An important step with big consequences.