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

(Page 4 of 4)

"We stood in front of the bulldozers and begged them to stop," the Arab recounted, dark eyes wandering and voice trembling. "But they said, 'Don't talk about land . . . . It has been seized.'"

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That was in early 1968, a seizure of nearly 1,000 acres of Arab land in a drive that was to pry some 30 percent of east Jerusalem from Arab ownership by mid-1970.

Arab after Arab asked Israeli after Israeli to stop, often getting much the same answer as Haj Ali Khalaf: "The land has been seized."

They were Arabs like Khasmieh Abu Aqiel, headman of the teeming Moroccan quarter in the walled city, bulldozed shortly after the war to widen access to the regained Wailing Wall.

"I still remember," Abu Aqiel says more than a dozen years later. "I saw an old woman begging them not to bulldoze until morning. The man said OK, but went ahead and bulldozed anyway."

On the opposite edge of the walled Old City, Israel chased out thousands of Arab refugees for the restoration of the Jewish Quarter.

Finally, in August 1970, came the largest land grab of all. Several thousand acres of east Jerusalem land were taken for the planting of three Jewish apartment townlets. The Israelis seized more soil than homes, and probably more rocks than either. But for the largely pastoral Palestinians, that was little consolation.

Nor did this do much to temper opposition to Israel's tightening hold on the east of the city among officials in Washington or other outside states. Whatever the religious and historical tangles of the so-called Jerusalem issue, the east of the city had been taken in battle.

That, as the rest of the world saw things, made it occupied land. As such, civilian settlemtns there contravened international law as surely as did the rural Jewish enclaves on the occupied West Bank.

Ten years later, Jerusalem is a city at peace and at war.

The barbed wire and the mine fields are gone. Arabs cross to west Jerusalem, Jews cross east. Under Israeli control, the domed mosques, the churches, and the Jewish holy places of the Old city are open to all. Jerusalem, in Israeli political parlance, is "unified."

But if unification comforts Jerusalem Jews, "for the other part of the city, it remains a black day," Meron Benvenisti, an Israeli who was postwar deputy mayor of Jerusalem, commented recently.

"I'm sorry to say it, but 13 years after the 'six-day war,' I really think the city is less unified than ever . . . . If we believe that it is [truly unified], we're just fooling ourselves."

The present Israeli prime minister has made it clear to this and other reporters that he considers the issue of Jerusalem nonnegotiable, a position no doubt cemented by the fact that even more moderate Israeli politicians share his determination to retain the holy city as the Jewish state's united capital.

Escalating violence across the West Bank has bred new tension in the holy city itself. The day after Arab gunmen ambushed a group of Jews in the West Bank town of Hebron this spring, a young Jewish apartment dweller happened upon a duel of rocks and rhetoric in front of Haj Ali's east Jerusalem home.

"You dirty Arabs," an Israeli man taunted a young Palestinian pedestrian.

"Wait a minute," the youth countered. "I wasn't the one who killed those people. I don't believe in occupation, but I don't believe in murder, either."

The Israeli answered with a stone.The Arab answered in kind.

If there is a silver lining in the Jerusalem storm clouds, it is that almost no one -- Jew or Arab -- hankers for the return of barbed wire and mine fields. Most Arabs, and certainly most local Palestinians, are ready to concede that Jordan was wrong in barring free access to Jewish holy places before 1967.

And if Prime Minister Begin resists even minimal political concessions to Jerusalem Arabs, the Labor Alignment party thought likely to succeed him speaks of at least "symbolic" gestures to the city's Palestinians.

But the Palestinians insist not on autonomy, but on renewed Arab sovereignty for east Jerusalem.