National Geographic : 1959 Apr
A Bearded Methuselah Recalls His Years as the Author Scribbles Notes Surrounded by a few of his 75 descendants, Mohammed Khalil Abul Hawa recites histori cal events he has witnessed to support his claim to 134 years. A Jordanian policeman in cloth-covered helmet interprets the Arabic for National Geo graphic Assistant Editor John Scofield (left). But humanitarianism can take strange forms. A couple of years ago at a hospice that sits precariously on the edge of the city's dividing line, an elderly woman leaned from an upstairs window and her false teeth dropped into no man's land. It took the combined talents of the Israeli and Jordanian liaison officers and a staff of United Nations observers to get them back for her. Patriarch Boasts 75 Descendants On one of my last days in Arab Jerusalem I went to see an old, old man who lives in the village of At Tur, on the Mount of Olives. His name is Mohammed Khalil Abul Hawa, and his birth certificate, issued during Turkish times, proclaims him to be 134 years old. I had heard about Abul Hawa from a friend in the Jordan Army who gave me a photo copy of the old man's birth certificate. But almost immediately another friend, an Arab doctor, expressed doubt about Abul Hawa's true age. Abul Hawa was very old, he said, 102, perhaps, or even a couple of years older, but not 134. "Age carries great prestige among the vil lagers," he told me. "Many of them pretend to be older than they really are." I found Abul Hawa sitting outside a coffee shop dozing in the early morning sunshine. Around him a dozen men-nephews, sons, and grandsons-puffed on their water pipes or sipped from tiny coffee cups. Abul Hawa was quite deaf, and the policeman who had come with us to translate had to shout his questions directly into the old man's ear. The night before I had hurriedly looked through some books of local history. One of the things I had come across was an account of the visit to Jerusalem in 1834 of the Egyp tian general who then ruled Palestine in the name of the Ottoman Empire. "Do you remember Ibrahim Pasha?" the policeman shouted into Abul Hawa's ear. The old man nodded and passed a withered hand before his face. "When Ibrahim Pasha came to Jerusalem 530 I was a small boy, seven or eight," he said. "My mother was frightened and hid us." There was no way to tell whether Abul Hawa really remembered that visit or was simply recalling something he had been told. If he did remember it, it would make him at least 130. "Ask him how many wives he has had," I said. The policeman shouted again in Arabic. "Only one," the old man said, "and 11 children." Seventy-five villagers look to him as father, grandfather, and great-grand father, he said, gazing proudly around him at the crowd that by now hemmed us in.