Claudiaexpat gives us some tips to decide where to look for if you are renting in Jerusalem.
Like everything else, renting in Jerusalem can become a very complicated matter. One has to choose amongst such a variety of different situations and cultures. In no other place on earth will you find such a diverse population, carrier of its own ways and customs, within a few metres. Here you can walk on foot and literally enter a completely different world in a matter of steps.
And of course all of these cultural worlds will constitute a different living experience. Many expatriates choose (or must choose out of respect for their organization’s position) to live in East Jerusalem. This is their way to demonstrate their dissent to the Israeli occupation of the city. In this case the range of search for a suitable accommodation will be limited to the East Jerusalem neighbourhoods. If you are free to choose, there are quite a number of factors you might want to consider before venturing in the choice of a house.
On both sides you can find more traditional, old neighbourhoods that still maintain a sense of the past, and modern and fast-growing areas.
Building in the East is hammered by lack of permissions by the town municipality. However, in neighbourhoods like Beit Hanina and Shuafa’t have a wider offer of new apartments compared with areas like Sheik Jarrah.
Traditional neighbourhoods in the West include for instance Morasha, with lots of ancient Arab houses and a very distinct atmosphere, or the German Colony and Baka. Here construction only took place in the farthest areas of the neighbourhoods. Their heart is still constituted by beautiful houses with well-maintained gardens. You can find modern and far more recent accommodation in New Arnona and Talpyot, without mentioning the centre of West Jerusalem, where construction of new buildings is completely changing the aspect and the atmosphere of the area.
General complaints about living in the two sides of the cities include: poor maintenance and cleaning of common living spaces, lack of green areas, and chaotic and unorganized traffic in the East, and unwelcoming atmosphere and difficult relationships with neighbours in the West.
Although even in the Eastern areas it can happen that relations between neighbours become tense (usually because of a different concept of cleanliness and management of common spaces), many are the stories that I heard about unfriendliness in the Western neighbourhoods, where locals in many cases tend to immediately complain when neighbours organize social events, have aggressive attitudes (like throwing dirty water on balconies and people passing in common gardens, calling the police in case the party gets too loud in what they consider being a late hour for socializing,
blocking common passages, etc.).
Finally, weddings celebrations and other kinds of get-together can get very loud especially in the Eastern side of town, where this kinds of events involve big groups of people and generally have a big community involvement. But of course they also testify of a sense of community and get together that – noises apart – gives the neighbourhood a warm and participating atmosphere.
The eastern area of Jerusalem is not as well maintained as the western one. While the municipality strives to give the latter the best treatment, it leaves the other side fairly neglected.
Due to this, the general idea is that you’ll find in the Western portion of Jerusalem something more similar to what you can encounter in some Western cultures: punctual garbage collection, well-maintained and watered green areas, clear and modern street signs, systematically repainted crosswalks, etc. The East is more run-down, garbage is often burnt because it is not regularly collected, crosswalks and pavement are not maintained, there are barely playing areas for children.
Kindness of neighbours
What the East lacks in maintenance though is highly repaid by the kindness of the local people that maintain a strong Arab welcoming tradition and are generally more prone to help the newcomer and make him feel at ease.
Dozens of expatriates have reported that locals in the West are cold, unwelcoming and in some cases even rude. In contrast, the general atmosphere is completely different from East to West. If you attach importance to human relationships, this is a factor you should take into account when deciding where to live.
Even here, the situation differs in East and West. The eastern side does not have big supermarkets and parking space is limited. You have a variety of small and medium-sized supermarkets and shops, and a lot of occasions to buy fruit and vegetables – from the stalls in the Old City, to the shops in front of Damascus Gate, to a variety of big vegetables shops spread all over the main Eastern neighbourhoods.
Supermarkets in the West are bigger. They have a wider variety of products (bigger choice of imported ones). They sually also have a parking lot for you car. You’ll find big shopping malls only in the West, and huge shopping areas (like Talpyot) where you can find anything you are looking for, from a car to a cucumber.
Again in the West you have shops that are open 24 hours a day, with forbidden prices, but absolutely practical in case you forget something at the last minute, or need to get a product to complete your dinner when everything else has already closed. As stated before, the human relation between seller and customer is strikingly different in East and West. In the latter do not expect smiles or humour in the interaction between seller and buyer – many expatriates on arrival are shocked by the lack of politeness of cashiers in supermarkets and shops.
These logistical practicalities, however, do not matter so much, because it is absolutely possible to move from East to West with no problems. Many people that live in the West go shopping and entertaining themselves in the East and vice versa.
There is one last thing you should know concerning difference in lifestyle from East to West. Many services (i.e. deliveries) do not go to the former. You won’t be able to call a service in the West and ask them to deliver something to your place if you live in the East. They simply don’t go.