With the mass deaths and injuries being brought about by Israeli bombing in Gaza and the panic and injuries and in some cases fatal heart attacks being brought about in some parts of Israeli by the missiles, some countries are understandably advising tourists to be careful when they travel to this part of the world. The people who live here, especially the Palestinians in Gaza (and most Israelis who also don't have enough money to randomly buy a plane ticket), don't have the option of jumping on a plane and leaving.
However, this post is not about this. This post is about something that happened to my wife and I on the Mount Olives, that tourists I think should be aware of.
The Mount of Olives is a beautiful place. As you walk up, you can see churches and a graveyard where many religious Jewish people like to be buried, believing that will be the place where people will be resurrected. It's a long hike, and my wife and I walked up there one afternoon.
Unfortunately, after we got there, we got robbed. This guy started following us around and trying to sell us maps, we kept refusing. He brushed against me and my wife, and stole several hundred dollars from her backpack. Unfortunately, we didn't realize this until later.
We entered a Palestinian neighbourhood after a very long hike, and we were thirsty and hungry. All restaurants were closed due to Ramadan... but one of them was open! This muchached guy invited us in and after we asked him for some falafel, he immediately made them, and served us. The price for falafel is about 15-20 NIS (approx. $4-6) per falafel, so when he told us they would both cost 120 NIS ($37) we were quite shocked. He said that he made them already so he could not take them back, and that this is Ramadan and because of that it costs him extra to maintain his "business". We realized then that the money my wife had on me was missing, and that we had been robbed. He began yelling at how dishonest some people can be and how Shaitan makes people steal and how good Muslims do not behave like this during Ramadan, then he said he would call his "brother" to drive us to the bank and withdraw money. His "brother" allegedly works as a bus driver, and presto, showed up in less than 5 minutes after being called. He drove us to a bank, and demanded 100 NIS ($31) for that service. I am pretty sure he would have raised the price because of the wait.
We were in a position where we did owe the man money for his outrageously overpriced falafels. Had we known of course how much he was charging for them we wouldn't have ordered, but it was too late. It was also a relatively deserted area.
Once we were driven to the bank, we decided to call the police and report that we had been robbed. Our driver then began to get a bit nervous, and say that he had to get back to "work". We sat down and waited for a teller, and he began looking over our shoulder. I had $50 on me, and we decided to give it to him to get him to go away. He left.
I later emailed a Muslim friend from Pakistan, as well as a Christian friend from Palestine, and asked them what they thought of all this. They told me that the restaurant owner is obviously a scam artist, and that his "but it's Ramadan" excuse (or should I say ploy?) is ridiculous. During Ramadan, Muslims actually are encouraged to forgive others their debts, not raise prices for keeping restaurants open that they could easily close, like many others do. My Muslim friend had some pretty harsh words for him.
Due to this incident, I thought it would only be fair if I mentioned this to any potential tourists thinking of stopping by for a falafel in that neighbourhood, if they come to that restaurant. My wife later realized that there were no prices listed anywhere either for the food.
I have a habit (annoying maybe sometimes, yes) of snapping pictures everywhere I go. I managed to get a shot of our friends' place of business. Tourists are strongly recommended to stay away... this man and his "brother" acted like vultures, who prey on people who are in trouble.
The neighbourhood is nice even if a bit poor, and there are nice people who live there. The scavengers who took advantage of us are not representative of most Palestinians or Arabs or people from that area.
Just in case though... if you ever come across this place and are hungry and thirsty after a long walk, and a smiling mustached dude offers you a nice falafel... after you check your pockets to make sure nothing has been stolen, make sure you ask him for the price. Or better yet, get the heck out of there, because you are dealing with a scammer and con artist, a vulture who will do what he can to take advantage of you.