Olympics: Jerusalem's Old City enjoys brief taste of glory
Palestinians in Jerusalem's walled Old City lived the Olympic dream for a fleeting moment on Monday when Maher Abu Rmeileh entered the history books by stepping onto the judo mat in London.
But the dream did not last long, with the 28-year-old losing in under five minutes to his Belgium opponent Dirk Van Tichelt in the first round of the under-73 kg category.
One of five Palestinian athletes to go to the London Games, Abu Rmeileh became the first Palestinian to qualify as of right, with the others competing by virtue of an International Olympic Committee (IOC) invitation extended to emerging teams who've yet to reach the required entry standards.
As the morning of his fight arrived, his mother, Umm Maher, was getting ready to receive female friends and family coming to watch the event in their tiny stone house up a winding alley in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City.
"He is my eldest and I hope he wins," she told AFP, clutching a Palestinian flag with a British Union Jack taped to the back of it.
"He has been doing judo since he was five years old, but even if he doesn't win, I'm proud of him," she said as she showed a blurry screenshot of the opening ceremony in which her son was the flag bearer for the Palestinian delegation of athletes.
"He made history with his own hands," she added.
Ten minutes away, her husband Shafik organised his own gathering of male friends and family near the scarf shop he runs not far from the Damascus Gate.
Two doors down, in a small pastry shop, a crowd of people gathered around a TV screen mounted on the wall.
With no seating room, the small shop was soon packed with more than 20 people, none of whom were paying the slightest attention to the tempting array of sweet pastries on offer as everyone was fasting for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
"He is living my dream, he got to the Olympics," said Abu Rmeileh's father, himself a former judoka.
A father of six, Shafik said he'd trained all of his children -- five sons and one daughter -- in judo, with his eldest the first to really go places in the sport.
"We expect at least a bronze medal, God willing," said second son Bilal, 25. "Maher has been training like crazy for two months since he found out that he qualified."
As the television showed the young Palestinian walking onto the mat, his friends, family and local shopkeepers started chanting in support, although the cheers turned to jeers when his opponent was on top in the contest.
The noise attracted a few more passers-by, keen to know what all the fuss was about.
But in just a few minutes, the dream was over.
After a few consoling slaps on the back, most of the people quietly headed home or back to work, leaving the family alone.
"No matter what, we are very proud of him, he performed well," said Shafik, struggling to keep the disappointment from his face.
"It's all about luck."
"I am proud of my brother," insisted Salah, 17. "He put up a strong show, better than usual actually."
But for Yassin, at nine the youngest family member, the scale of his brother's achievement was an inspiration.
"Maher was the first to qualify for the Olympics, and some day I will do the same," he said. "I will go to the Olympics."