BAZ RATNER / Reuters
South Korean tourists sit on a camel at a promenade on the Mount of Olives, that overlooks the Dome of the Rock and Jerusalem's Old City on Jan. 12.
JERUSALEM, Israel – Nassar and Ali Abu Alwa are devastated: for the past 10 days they have had no income. The two Palestinian brothers live in East Jerusalem and for years have been a vital part of the tourist scene here.
If you have visited Jerusalem in the past 40 years, you probably have a picture of yourself posing with their pride and joy, known as “The Jerusalem Camel.”
Hundreds of tourists flock daily to the beautiful Mount of Olives observation point where the brothers work. It's a perfect vantage point to gaze at the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock Mosque, the Mount of Olives ancient Jewish cemetery and it offers a great 180-degree panorama of the walled Old City of Jerusalem.
Tourists hurry to snap pictures, but the best picture is always the one taken sitting on the camel with the Biblical view in the background. The camel's name is actually "Kojak" and has been in the business of hosting tourists on his back for pictures for the past 30 years.
You can't beat the startled smile on a visitor’s face when the huge camel stands up from a kneeling position – laughter is heard everywhere.
The joke goes that for the price of $2 you can go up, but it costs $5 to get off.
But 10 days ago, the Jerusalem municipality decided they had had enough and detained Kojak, leaving Nassar and Ali heartbroken.
Sebastian Scheiner / AP
Tourists have their picture taken next to a camel at the Mount of Olives viewpoint overlooking the Dome of the Rock and Jerusalem's Old city, Monday, Jan. 24, 2011.
The official reasons for the seizure: the camel needs vaccinations, the brothers have no business permit and, last but not least, the camel has no third-party insurance. (Now come on, how do you insure a camel?!)
But Nassar and Ali claim the main reason for seizing the animal was to put pressure on them to hand over names of people the municipality suspects of pick-pocketing at the Mount of Olives observation point. The brothers won’t comment on the case for the meantime.
Enter Hila Zisberg. She belongs to “Youth for Jerusalem,” an Israeli organization that aims to bring young people to heritage sites.
Zisberg frequently brings young people on field trips to the Mount of Olives observation point. Recently, she was astonished to see Nassar and Ali, but not their beloved camel. She was angry when told that the camel had been detained.
"Kojak is a cornerstone of Jerusalem and he will die there," Ali Abu Alwa told Zisberg.
Zisberg decided to take on the Jerusalem municipality and demand the quick return of one of the city's icons. She is now busy with the strange task of finding an insurance company willing to insure a camel; she said most of the agents just laugh at her request.
But she is confident the issue will be resolved quickly and that Nassar and Ali will be reunited with their camel – so tourists can snap the perfect picture again soon.