Skip to: Content
Skip to: Site Navigation
Skip to: Search


What's behind Israeli's extension of Jewish control over holy city

(Page 3 of 4)



"Whoever goes on a pilgrimage to the Jerusalem sanctuary," Muhammad is quoted as saying of his faith's third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, "shall be forgiven all his sins."

Skip to next paragraph

The story of modern Jerusalem is the story of Arab-Israeli conflict, with a dav of oil (from the arabs), implied nuclear threat (from Israel), and superpower rivalry (courtesy of washington and Moscow).

Long before dispersed European Jews began their large-scale trek back to the coastal plain of Palestine in the 19th century, others of their number had been returning to the inland heights of Jerusalem. Indeed, by that time the Jews were again a majority in the holy city. They planted new residential enclaves to the west of the tiny walled town, among whitewashed Arab villages.

In 1948, war came -- with the city still under British mandtory rule, but due to be internationalized by the terms of the United Nations resolution partitioning Palestine into one Jewish and one Arab state. As the Jews battled the Arab world for the state promised them by the resolution, Jerusalem's hills, gardens, and alleywalls were caught up in the conflict. Arab and Jewish neighbors -- even, occasionally, friends -- became enemies.

Arab Palestinian townlets perched atop the main supply route from the Mediterranean took up rusty arms, determined to starve out what were seen as foreign latecomers seizing on ancient history as a ticket for conquest. The blockade of Jewish strongholds in west Jerusalem very nearly succeeded.

Inside the walled town, the traditional Jewish Quarter (which in one of Jerusalem's ample ironies was mostly Arab-owned) was battled free of Jews. Westward, the Jews were driving out Arabs from villages couched for centuries amid rugged hills. In one village, Deir Yassin, extremist militiamen loyal to Menachem Begin, then an extremist revolutionary, massacred dozens of civilians in the process. Days later, Arab gunmen struck back against a medical convoy headed for Hebrew University's Hadassah Hospital, located in the city's mostly Arab east.

In the hamlet of Lifta, like Deir Yassin an Arab enclave in the west, the mukhtar, or local headman, lost his two family homes. "One of them," he recalls , "I built stone by stone, with my own hands." His name: Haj Ali Khalaf.

When the killing on both sides was over, when a UN-supervised truce silenced the guns in 1949, Jerusalem was not only disputed -- but divided.

The Jews had won the west, linked by a narrow wedge of territory to the Mediterranean lowlands that formed most of the infant state of Israel.

The pro-British Arab monarchy of Jordan had the east, including the walled city with its battered Jewish quarter (where fleeing Arabs from west Jerusalem and the rest of Israel now pitched makeshift homes and with its Wailing Wall, sacred to the Jews.

On the Arab east, too, rose the Mount of Olives. There, where the ancestors of Mrs. Rachel Lustig and hundreds of other Jews were buried, came the city's Intercontinental Hotel and a web of access roads.

Like the Arabs of western Jerusalem, the Jews of the east lost several enclaves in the city's partition. but most agonizing to Israel was the fact that Jordan, in defiance of the agreed truce terms, denied Jews access to the Wailing Wall for the first time since the Crusaders' rule some 750 years earlier.

Between the eastern and western sectors lay barbed wire, mine fields, a UN no man's land, and Arab-Israeli hatred. Thus, punctuated by occasional gunfire, things remained until 1967 -- a war where political Jerusalem was turned inside out and where only the familiar hatred survived.

"The bulldozers came at dawn," recalled Haj Ali of the headlong expropriation and building campaign by wich the Israelis, after the war, strove to cement newly captured east Jerusalem as their own. Having fled from west to east 18 years earlier, the Khalaf patriarch now lost land there as well -- to Jewish apartment dwellers near the resuscitated campus and hospital of Hebrew University, idle since partition.