In English, this village sounds macabre. And with no irony at all, it lies just below Jerusalem’s “hill of evil counsel” — home, naturally, to the local UN mission. Jabel Mukaber, however, means the “hill of he who cried Allah hu-akbar” — God is great.
My first and only visit there was on a January afternoon over a quarter of century ago. One of those Jerusalem winter days when the cold air plays with the warm sun and you find yourself wandering easily over the Holy City’s rocky paths. Two friends and I strolled down the hill from Kiryat Moriah where our visiting college study group was staying. We were soon pelted with stones by a band of hardscrabble children, chased by a club-swinging teen who charged us on a donkey, and hustled out of there by a few local youths who warned us (as if it wasn’t clear) that we were in danger. We all made it home safely. God is great.
“God is great.” When I lived in East Talpiot, the loudspeakers of Jabel Mukaber’s minarets proclaimed that for all of us each morning — well before the sun had risen. And throughout the month of Ramadan, sunset was marked with an old cannon’s blast. On Shabbat afternoons, their local drum core would march to and fro, the boys beating their bass and snares for all they were worth. I would often walk down Oleh Hagardom – “the street of those who were hanged” — to watch them from afar. They tried to look so serious with their paramilitary maneuvers and noise. But from my vantage point to the west, they were always framed against the Judean desert. It opened like a great, barren ocean straight to the eastern horizon. And always made them, and my own Jewish neighborhood as well, seem much less significant by comparison. We are small, God is great.
I once hired a Russian handyman who brought along an Arab painter from Jabel Mukaber. They spent a few days working in my house. The painter was surprised when I instructed him to leave a patch of wall undone next to the doorway. When he asked me why, I thought that he might feel uneasy if I told him that it was to remind us Jews of our Temple’s destruction, on the very spot his domed monument now stood. Instead, I told him that this planned imperfection reminds us that only the One is perfect, only Allah hu-akbar. He was pleased to hear of this Jewish custom and worked the rest of day with a smile. For Jew and Moslem alike, God is great.
This week’s killer hailed from Jabel Mukaber. I imagine that he sang out his faith while plowing his truck like a huge, raging bull into a group of sight-seeing soldiers, crushing four of them to death: Allah hu-akbar. So too his compatriots and neighbors: Those who hacked to death some Jews riding a Jerusalem bus; or shot up a group of men at prayer in Har Nof; or ran over an elderly pedestrian in Mea She’arim; or slaughtered eight young yeshiva students — my sixteen-year-old son, Avraham David, among them— with a Kalashnikov assault rifle at point blank range. All were scions of that hill where they proclaim, five times daily, that God is great.
We Jews, when we bury our shot and crushed and butchered, when we mourn our murdered children, always pray that God’s name will be exalted. For we know all too well that man’s horrendous inhumanity has diminished it. Every evil hand that passes out sweets, every voice that praises murderers of children as martyrs, every preacher who promises paradise has stained that Name. And all men of conscience ask how, how can that hill, awash in the blood of so many innocents, continue to cry out that God is great?
Naftali Moses holds a PhD in medical history