The women of the “Domari Society of Gypsies in Jerusalem” make some wonderful handcrafts as a way of supporting themselves and their families. The center also helps send children to school, with general education and cooking classes, and other awesome projects.
Please consider donating or buying something from these amazing and hard working women.
The necklace I got from them a year ago or so is absolutely wonderful.
Though I’ve yet to wear it, ach.
Buy something nice or donate if you’re able.
While it is a community that has lived in the city for centuries, not many have heard of the Dom in Jerusalem.
“Few people know that we are the Gypsies of the Middle East,” says Amoun Sleem, director of the Domari Society of Gypsies in Jerusalem.
The cultural center she runs was founded as an NGO in 1999 and is located in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shu’fat, on the road to Ramallah.
“The Gypsy communities migrated from India in the seventh century. Then they separated into two migration waves. One resulted in the Dom, which settled in the Middle East; the other is the Roma community, known to most people as the Gypsies of Eastern Europe,” she says.
Today, struggling to survive in the shadow of the political tensions of the region, both the Gypsy cultural heritage and the Dom identity are threatened. The Dom people are non-Arabs, mostly Muslims, living in predominantly Arab communities.
“The word ‘dom’ means ‘man’ in Domari, the language of the Gypsies of this area,” explains Sleem.
Contrary to mainstream belief, not all Gypsy communities are nomadic. A sedentary lifestyle has characterized the life of the Dom for many centuries. The Gypsies of Jerusalem make a living working as drivers, nurses, street cleaners and cooks, and are employed in the textile industry as workers.
Despite counting few members, the Gypsies of Jerusalem are an integral part of the city’s heritage; no less than Muslim, Jewish or Christian people.
“The Dom people who settled in Jerusalem have been residing in the Old City for over 400 years,” Sleem points out.
Other Gypsy communities can be found in the Palestinian refugee camps of Jordan, in the Kurdish region of Turkey, in Syria, Iraq and Daqahlia in Egypt.
The Dom community of Jerusalem finds itself caught in the crossfire of the Arab-Israeli conflict, partaking with neither side but being influenced by both.
Khamis, a man in his mid-40s, has seven children; both he and his wife are of Dom origin.
“There is no justice for non-Jewish communities. Discrimination at work is directed toward all Arabs, and the Dom, even if ethnically different, are considered part of them,” he says.
“We merge with the Arab community so we don’t stand out and spark hatred. We keep a low profile,” he explains.
The situation of the Dom people worsened after Israel’s construction of the separation barrier. Many families found themselves living “on the other side of the wall,” without being able to reach family members. They cannot move freely to seek work.
Making a living became more and more difficult, creating a new obstacle in the struggle of the Dom people.
Poverty and marginalization
“We must rely on our own resources and motivation to preserve our heritage and survive,” says Sleem.
“When we receive donations of clothes and food, we sometimes cross the checkpoints to bring them to the isolated Dom communities in the West Bank,” she adds.
The Gypsies who reside in Jerusalem are educated in the system of the municipality under Israeli administration. At Khamis’ home in the Palestinian refugee camp of Shu’fat, located behind the wall in East Jerusalem, no one speaks Domari. The Domari language is of Indo-Aryan origin, it is not written and it is threatened with extinction. Dom children study Hebrew and Arabic starting in primary school, a useful tool to compete in the challenging job market.
Poverty and marginalization often lead to a very high school dropout rate. The Domari Center offers educational support to children and adults, especially women.
The presence of the Dom Gypsies in Jerusalem is unknown to most people. They seem to merge with local communities, embracing their cultural features but remaining detached.
“I have never heard of the Gypsies of Jerusalem. Are there Gypsies here?” asks a shopkeeper whose business is located just opposite the Domari Center.
This is the predominant reaction of the local population when asked about the Dom people.
“Gypsies of Jerusalem? Ah, you mean the nawar! No one knows where they came from; some say they are from the south,” a bakery owner says. Nawar is a word used in Palestinian Arabic to describe someone who is not too brilliant and, also, to define the Gypsies.
“I never tell people I am Gypsy. Palestinians don’t know what it means and I don’t want to always explain it,” confesses Heba, a student.
Tensions in the region and divisions rooted in decades of conflict have not spared the Dom community. Corruption and power struggles led to hostilities between Gypsy families, pushing them to abandon the core of Dom life, based on their common ethnic background, to seek integration elsewhere.
“We believe in fate. It is all maktoub, written in the traces of history left by our predecessors. We will survive and teach our descendents about our heritage,” Sleem says.
Outside, in the courtyard, young girls and boys paint colorful Gypsy dancers. Here they learn to be proud of their identity as part of a city full of challenges, which Jerusalem has always been.
The Dom have strong feelings of belonging to Jerusalem.
“Jerusalem is my home, I want to stay here. Where can I go? I like it here, all my family photographs have been taken here,” Heba explains.
The longer version of this piece was originally published in Egypt Independent’s weekly print edition.
I <3 Amoun Sleem with all my heart and wish I could be as fucking AMAZING as she is. What a STRONG Domari woman.
so i just saw a phrase “g***y magic” and i googled it to get more sense of what “g***y magic” was referring to because it made me uncomfortable as fuck just looking at it. i found a large amount of wicca sites claiming to know the magic of the romani/dom people. i’m not familiar with wicca at all (asides from the little i remember when i was 10 and wanted to be a witch), so this whole sect of “g***y magic” really stunned me. my immediate concerns were its truthfulness and whether or not it was something that outsiders could participate in. there is a real danger of people borrowing from racist stereotypes of ethnic groups to create what they believe are “traditions” of this group or actually taking things that are not allowed. for example, a lot of people espouse philosophy that is apparently “native-american”, when it is just a made up jumble of racist stereotypes of what first nations people in the americas believe. so i’ve been looking stuff up to see whether or not my suspicions are valid and i found this post, which i will now share with you.
“it is not possible for romani or dom traditions to be taught and practiced by outsiders of the culture. these traditions are passed down through family and community. and people are only considered part of these communities if they adhere to various traditional connections to their ethnic communities. just throwing things together and calling them ‘gypsy traditions’ doesn’t work – the community has to welcome you and feel that connection between you and their culture. otherwise, you are gadje - an outsider. even those brought into the community through marriage or birth may not be considered part of the culture if they are detached from various aspects that make up that culture. yes, even with romani or dom heritage, you can be gadje. on top of that, the majority of romani and dom are christian because of the (white, christian, often focusing on conversion) dominant cultures they live in. so some of the folk traditions and beliefs are beginning to slowly die out, only maintained by the few. painting all romani and dom with these traditions and beliefs ignores the slow erasure of folklore and culture through cultural assimilation.
third, the distribution of traditions painted as ‘gypsy magic’ to outside audiences en masse is a form of culture appropriation. as mentioned in the previous paragraph, the cultures of the romani and dom people are closed to those they do not welcome. taking these traditions, or even things that one labels as ‘gypsy traditions’ (even if they have no actual relation and are thus compromised of stereotypical bullshit), is appropriation of their culture for one’s own personal gain. that is stealing…
fourth, many of the traditions of ‘gypsy magic’ or tarot is based off of ethnic stereotypes, romanticizing images and ideas that are far from representative of the people these stereotypes are attached to. after all, many of those that are slandered as ‘gypsies’ aren’t even romani! folks like the pavee may even be white and have their own traditions, thus hardly the depiction of dark skinned ethnic beauties in their golden jewelry and brightly colored clothes. what’s worse, these popular depictions of ‘gypsies’ in fantasy worlds such as games, books and movies suggest that they don’t even exist anymore! like they’re some sort of magical fairies that add color and excitement (or theft and deception, like that’s so much better!) to such environments and then magically disappear from the world during the medieval times. yeah, the folks that are suffering from racial, class and cultural oppression throughout europe and various other locations throughout the world? don’t exist, apparently. those molotov cocktails being thrown into their homes and fascist organizations terrorizing entire communities just for existing? fiction, apparently. and their voices shouting at the world to stop these assaults on their peoples? just whispers in the wind.”
i’m looking for more information on this (because i’m curious to see exactly how inaccurate this concept is) but seriously y’all, i think the fact that the phrase “g***y magic” relies on an ethnic SLUR is a great clue that it’s racist as fuck. the hints of cultural appropriation and reliance on ethnic stereotypes with the term is also RACIST AS FUCK. don’t use this goddamn phrase.
Amoun Sleem, head of the Jerusalem Dromari Gypsey Society.
[Video from RomaWoman.org]
photo: Domari girls at the Domari Gypsey Center in Jerusalem.
Today, Dom communities reside in Cyprus, Iran, Iraq/Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel/West Bank/Gaza, and Turkey.
Today, the Dom of Jerusalem still reside near the Lions Gate, behind the ancient walls of the Old City. This community consists of approximately 1,000 people, while larger populations live in Judea, Samarea, Gaza, and the West Bank.
While prior generations of Dom were nomadic, holding occupations such as blacksmiths, horse dealers, musicians, dancers, and animal healers, for over one hundred years the Jerusalem Gypsies have been living a sedentary lifestyle. While they originally settled in the Wadi Joz neighborhood of East Jerusalem, they later moved into the Old City and Migdal Ha Chasidah neighborhood. Typical of Gypsy populations, they accepted the local language and religion, in this case, Arabic and Islam.
The Dom of Jerusalem have not been immune from the turmultous history of this region, and their populations within the city have greatly reduced over the years. The greatest immigration occurred after the 6 Days War of 1967, after hiding in the Church of St. Anne, within the walls of the Old City for the duration of the conflict. Those who fled now reside in Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, reducing the population from 200 families to less than 70 in the 1990s. During this time, the younger generation have become less interested in the ancient traditions and culture, preferring to assimilate into the neighboring Arab communities. Because of this, the Dom language is rarely used in everyday speech, and the traditional dress and other customs have largely been abandoned. This self-afflicted and imposed assimilation is contributed to the discrimination and marginalization the Gypsies face from both the Jewish and Arab population, and as a result the economic and social limitations that come from being identified and recognizable as Gypsy. These problems are perpetuated by a high drop-out rate, leading to high illiteracy.
[Source: Domari Gypsey Center]
“The Middle East is home to many ancient and indigenous small peoples whose powerlessness makes their history little known-indeed, virtually hidden. Such a lack of power often signifies the absence of speech, of a public and recorded voice to articulate the existence, condition, and vision of a people.”
Mordechai Nisan, “The Minority Plight” in Middle East Quarterly (September, 1996)
In the Middle East & North Africa many Romani still refer to themselves as Dom or Domi. Other names that are used to designate Gypsy people in the M.E. include Barake, Nawar, Kaloro, Koli, Kurbat, Ghorbati, Jat/Zott and Zargari. These names are usually more “tribe specific” but some are used in a more general sense by non-Gypsies. Often the terms carry a pejorative meaning. The term “Nawar,” for example, is one of the most widely used designations in the Arab world. The word is commonly used as an insult. In turn, it is applied to the Gypsies, not only as an ethnic designation, but also to designate them as worthless. The Persians use the word Koli in much the same way. These labels are a part of the general negative stereotyping of the Gypsy people in the Middle East.
Originally coming from India, the Gypsies are now scattered throughout the world numbering more than forty million people. Though their stories of persecution in Europe are widely publicized, little has made its way into print regarding the lives of the two to three million Dom who live in the Middle East.
[SOURCE: Middle East Gypsies]