M. is a 13 year old boy. I met him in a gift shop in the old walled city of Jerusalem. These are his words:
I live in Jerusalem. My family has always had this shop. I am the oldest child and have two brothers and sisters, so it is my job to help my father when I am not in school. As you can see, we have very nice things in this shop, things from all over Israel and Palestine. The Armenian pottery is hand-painted with traditional designs, like the Tree of Life. And we have cups, plates, bowls, whatever anyone wants.
My family is from Beersheva, in the south, and many of my family still live there. These blankets are made by old women there. They make them in their homes and sell them to us and we sell them in the shop. This is my father's shop and it was his father's shop before him. Dad has worked in this market for 35 years. I have a few more years of school to go, then I will probably have to work in the shop full time. I'd like to go on to university and maybe be a doctor or a teacher.
What I would really like to do is be a tour guide in Jerusalem. I know the Old City really well because I was born here. When I was a small child I would play with my friends all over the Old City, up and down the stairs, in and out of all the small alleys. I know what is behind most of the doors - where there is a little bakery, where there is a school or an orphanage hidden from the tourists, where the sweets are, where the playgrounds are - I know all of it. So I would be a good tour guide.
I would know how to explain everything to the tourists. The Old City has four neighbourhoods. They are called Quarters. There is a Christian quarter, a Muslim quarter, an Armenian quarter and a Jewish quarter. But really, everything is mixed together. The El Omariye Mosque is in the Christian quarter, right beside the Church of the Holy Seplichure, where the Christians go. There is a yeshiva in the Muslim quarter, and Roman ruins in the Christian quarter.
As a child you can go everywhere and no one pays attention to you, as long as you don't make trouble. And you can enjoy getting lost, but you're not really lost because the whole place has a wall around it, and when you get to a wall, you can always find your way home again.
My favourite part of the Old City is the Mosque, of course. At the Al Aqsa Mosque there are gardens and open spaces to play, and lots of little spots where you can sit with your friends in the sun or the shade and talk or just sit.
Now that I am older I don't have a lot of spare time - I go to school and I come to work here in the shop.
I know a little bit of many languages because of all the tourists who come here. They come from all over, and they like it if you speak their language - they will buy more then. I learned a bit of English as school, but get to practice it a lot on tourists, so my English is pretty good. Lots of Russians come here, too. Lots of people.
It's not so busy now, but it will be soon because Easter is coming. There are processions of Christians through here every Friday. The monks and priests and nuns walk and stop at every place Jesus was - where he fell, where he was killed - and they pray and people take pictures. At Easter the processions are even bigger and people carry crosses. I am Muslim, but I know about Jesus because he was an important prophet.
Lots of cultures come to Jerusalem to pray for peace.
I will probably marry. My father says I will be married and continue the family and the family business. That seems like a long time away.