'Unholy' dispute in Jerusalem splits Israelis

JERUSALEM, Haro Chakmakjian- Peace activists who in a party-like atmosphere put on a weekly show of support for evicted Palestinians near homes in annexed east Jerusalem often inspire scorn from fellow Israelis.
"They want to show solidarity but they do it for the wrong reasons," said a 34-year-old man who sells lottery tickets from a kiosk in west Jerusalem, giving his name only as Mickey.

The Jerusalem skyline
The Jerusalem skyline
"They go to sit at the coffeeshops with the Arabs because it's a few shekels cheaper over there," he added derisively.
Hundreds of Israelis gather each Friday in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of mainly Arab east Jerusalem to protest against the eviction of Palestinian families by Jewish settlers armed with court orders.
Mickey, who wears a stud in one ear and describes himself as "leftwing but not radical like them," pointed out that there are no similar protests staged against Israeli Arabs buying properties in mostly Jewish cities.
"If they bought the land legally, they can live on it, it doesn't matter if they are Arab or Jew, as far as I'm concerned," he said.
With Jerusalem now a hot button issue in the stagnant Israeli-Palestinian peace process, a cross-section of a polarised Israeli society including rabbis, university professors and youths turn up for the protests.
"This makes a difference for us, this enthusiasm and energy after so many years of the left being paralysed," prominent novelist David Grossman told AFP at last Friday's gathering of some 300 people.
He said to the crowd over loudspeaker: "Human rights are not only the concern of the leftwing but of all Israelis."
To the beat of drums and dancing, as a passing car blew its horn, the demonstrators, including two clowns in army uniform, chanted: "Sheikh Jarrah don't be afraid, the occupation will end."
On sale were T-shirts, in Hebrew, which read: "There is No Holiness in Occupation," referring to the disputed status of the Holy City, whose eastern sector the Palestinians want as the capital of their promised future state.
Israel seized east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and annexed it in a move not recognised by any other government. It views all of Jerusalem as its "eternal, undivided" capital.
Earlier, dozens of the more high-profile activists huddled for a debate in the courtyard of Nabil al-Kurd, 65, whose family has been evicted from the home he built in 2000, drinking cups of his thick, black Arabic coffee.
"It's not legal for me, it's legal for them," said Kurd, a former civil servant in Kuwait and Jordan, pointing to a cluster of ultra-Orthodox Jewish youths in front of the home which an Israeli court has ordered him to demolish.
Over the screams of children playing on swings, he explained that, like many other Palestinians, he had tried but failed to secure an Israeli building permit for the white stone, one-storey building with barricaded windows.
"Palestine you are not alone, Scotland supports Palestine," reads the graffiti on the wall, apparently to show the extent of support.
But one of the settlers, Hanuch Shachar, 21, insists the district should be known as Shimon Hatsadik (Simon the Just) after a renowned Jewish priest, a picture of whose millennia-old tomb in the area he showed on an iPhone.
The settlers claim ownership of properties in Sheikh Jarrah on the basis of Ottoman-era documents.
The Palestinians and their Israeli supporters have argued that the same kinds of documents would prove ownership of vast swathes of what is now Israel by the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who became refugees after the 1948 Middle East war that attended Israel's creation.
"The Arabs are just making their own lives even more difficult, and these people are just encouraging them," Shachar said, referring to his fellow Israelis at the demonstration.
The protests often inspire counter-demonstrations by ultra-Orthodox Jews and Jewish settlers, with both sides scuffling with Israeli police backed up by border guards. Several activists have been briefly detained in recent months.
Avner Inbar, a regular participant, remains undeterred, blaming the deadlock in US-backed peace efforts on rightwing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who hammers home Israel's official stand on Jerusalem as its indivisible capital.
"While the eyes of the entire world are fixed on Jerusalem, the Netanyahu government continues to collaborate with a handful of fanatical settlers trying to ... quash a peace agreement with the Palestinians," he told the Jerusalem Post.
The red-headed activist condemned the modus operandi of the settlers.
They place "thugs" in the neighbourhood to abuse the locals, "then they turn to the courts and ask to have the Palestinians removed from their homes on the pretext that they are disturbing their Jewish neighbours," he said.

Monday, April 12th 2010
Haro Chakmakjian

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