The Gypsies of Jerusalem: The Forgotten People

What do you do when you live in Jerusalem, are rejected by both the Palestinians and the Israelis, are dirt poor, and come from an ethnically mixed heritage?

Below is an excerpt from an article written by Amoun Sleem and published in the July 28th issue of This Week in Palestine:

The Gypsies of Jerusalem remain a community infused by musical rhythms and song in keeping with Gypsy tradition, but have abandoned their nomadic habits in favour of a more sedentary lifestyle. They have made their home in Jerusalem for over 400 years. Originally settling in an area outside the Old City called Wadi Al-Joz, the Dom later moved to a small neighbourhood called Burj Al-Laqlaq within the walls of the Old City. An ethnic minority, the Dom community has suffered in silence throughout the decades of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Their numbers dwindled significantly during the battles surrounding the foundation of the State of Israel. The greatest exodus occurred during the war of 1967, which caused nearly half of the Dom population to seek refuge in Syria, Lebanon, and even India.

Despite a deep-seated identification with Middle Eastern culture, the remaining two hundred families endure severe discrimination at the hands of Israelis and their Palestinian neighbours. Once lauded in Persian poetry as unparalleled entertainers, a series of cultural, political, and economic shifts have led the Dom to be regarded as despicable beggars. The shame of being a Gypsy is instilled at an early age when children enter school. Although the Dom consider themselves Palestinian, their non-Arab ethnicity elicits such intense abuse that nearly 60% of the Dom community has failed to complete elementary school. Unskilled and uneducated, the Dom are locked into a cycle of dire poverty and derision. The younger generation now prefers to assimilate fully into the surrounding Arab culture, spurning traditional dress, the Domari language, customs or anything else that might distinguish them as Gypsies.

I’ve also attached the latest edition of the Gypsy Wheel, the Domari Society newsletter:

Download domari_newsletter_summer_07.pdf

The good news is that the Domari Society, whose website is sadly out of date but at least active, has recently received some funding that brings them in off of the ledge of closing down their community center.  But the Domari remain very much in need of assistance– unfortunately, they are largely forgotten in the heat of the ethnic strife and intolerance that blights the wonder of Jerusalem and rivets the attention of the entire world.   

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