Jerusalem Day: Israelis celebrate, Palestinians mourn
May 15, 2007 - 10:38:09 AM
Jerusalem, May 15 - Forty years on, Ziyad, 74, remembers with remarkable clarity the day the Israelis took the walled, historic centre of perhaps the most disputed city in the world, on day three of the 1967 Six-Day War.
His narrow shop in an alley of the old city of Jerusalem's Moslem quarter, which now sells keffiyehs - and shawls made cheaply in China, was a family-owned grocery store at the time.
'On Wednesday, at 3.30 p.m., - soldiers came and told us to open the shop,' he recounts. The soldiers only took cigarettes and some food, but scared Arab neighbours, looking to stock up on food, later plundered everything.
'Before the Six-Day War, it was quiet. There were no problems like now. I earned better. I slept better. I purchased my merchandise cheaply,' says the Palestinian shop-owner.
Forty years after the war in which Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan and ended a two-decade separation from West Jerusalem that followed the 1948 War of Independence and the end of British Mandatory rule over Palestine, the city has become a modern metropolis of nearly three-quarter of a million people.
But while the wall and barbed-wired, mined no-man's land separating Israeli-controlled West Jerusalem from Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem no longer exist, another wall has taken its place.
Israel's security barrier, built after a record number of suicide bombings in 2002, now cuts off the city from its West Bank suburbs, making what used to be a 10-minute journey at least a one-hour drive from some of them.
Over the past decade-and-a-half, East Jerusalem has lost its status as the West Bank's central economic and commuters' hub to nearby Ramallah, due to checkpoints set up as a result of the Intifada and the 1993 Interim Oslo peace agreements, which excluded East Jerusalem from Palestinian autonomous control, explains Rami Nasrallah, who heads an international peace centre in East Jerusalem.
The wall has worsened the situation, he says. It has driven housing prices down to its east, and up to its west, making it unaffordable for many Palestinians to live within the municipal boundaries.
Drug abuse and crime have also worsened and because Palestinians do not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the city and therefore refuse to take part in municipal elections, they are excluded from decision-making and have no social bodies representing them to deal with these problems, says the Palestinian.
West Jerusalem meanwhile is also deteriorating economically. In recent years, Jerusalem has become the poorest city in Israel, with a poverty rate - that is double that of the country's average, says Professor Shlomo Hasson, another Jerusalem expert at the Hebrew University.
He attributes this mainly to the city's growing ultra-Orthodox population, who have large families but usually do not work and consider it a religious duty to study the Torah instead.
Observant women in ankle-long skirts and bearded men in long black coats and black hats increasingly dominate the West Jerusalem street scene, to the extent that secular Israelis often say they feel uncomfortable in some, mainly religious, neighbourhoods, where they risk being hissed at for wearing 'inappropriate clothing' such as sleeveless shirts.
The city also seems more divided than ever by an invisible barrier, with many Palestinians saying they do not venture to cross into West Jerusalem and Jewish Israelis saying they too do not leave their own comfort zone to enter East Jerusalem.
This was different before the Intifada, says Nasrallah, when Israelis would go East Jerusalem to eat Hummus - or buy cheap groceries and car parts.
'There is no unified Jerusalem,' says Ali, sitting in his empty Moslem Quarter jewellery shop.
Nevertheless, starting this week, Israel celebrates the 'reunification' of the city with a host of events, including parades, performances and exhibitions. The celebrations are due to reach a height on Jerusalem Day Wednesday, but are to continue for one year.
'Israel celebrates a united Jerusalem,' says a large banner on West Jerusalem's central Yaffa street.
Although they recognize Jerusalem remains deeply divided, for Israelis the crucial point is that they now have access to the Old City, and in particular to the only standing remnant of their Biblical Temple, the Wailing Wall.
Abir Nassi, 57, owns an art gallery in the Jewish Quarter and says he was among the first to move back there with his family after the June 1967 war. He was 18 at the time and found much of it in ruins, including its synagogues.
His father, a Jew of Uzbek descent, was born and raised in the Jewish Quarter, but escaped to West Jerusalem when it fell to the Jordanians in the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. All its Jewish residents either fled or were taken into captivity to Jordan, he says.
'As a boy, my father would take me to Mount Zion and we would look from there at the Old City and my father would stand there and cry,' recounts Nassi.
He also recalls how as a child, he would use binoculars to watch Jordanian snipers, 'with their red keffiyehs,' patrol the wall that cut off the Old City from his West Jerusalem neighbourhood.
'I was there the day they took down the wall. It was like the Berlin Wall,' recalls Nassi. Palestinians use the same comparison to describe today's wall.
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