Beirut — Haj Ali Khalaf arcs a spindly arm toward a tightening noose of Israeli housing on what was once Arab land. In 90 years in the world's holiest, and most fought-over, city, he has lost two homes (captured), acres of land (seized), and one son (exiled) to entrenching Israeli power.
"I pray for peace," he whispers, gazing toward the 16th-century city walls that lie near the eastern edge of modern Jerusalem. "But the Jews must stop taking our land."
Across town, Mrs. Rachel Lustig recalls truckloads of Jewish victims from a massacre of decades past, proof that it has taken both Arabs and to make Jerusalem the core of the Arab-Israeli conflict. She points toward the ancient Mount of Olives.
Her mother was -- is -- buried there. The Arabs, however, toppled the Jews' gravestones to mount a luxury hotel.
She, too, prays for peace. "We must find a way to live together, Jews and Arabs," she says, but argues that the Arabs could "get all of Jerusalem and still go on fighting us.
"Only Sadat has the courage for peace."m
Haj Ali Khalaf has since passed on, his prayers for peace unanswered. The sacred city of Jerusalem, even without gun battles or bombing raids, seems the focus of tension and conflict as never before.
In one corner is a tiny, mighty, and defiant Israel. In the other are local Palestinians and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, aware that he has virtually no chance of bringing other Arabs behind his peace initiative unless he can somehow undo israel's 1967 capture and annexation of the eastern Arab-held sector of the divided city.
In between stand United States negotiators. They argue that the final status of the city has yet to be negotiated, and view the eastern sector as under Israeli occupation. At the 1978 Camp David summit they packed away the "Jerusalem issue" for much later debate. But the package has been unraveling with a vengeance.
Israel has been doing most of the unraveling, determined that the city where the ancient Jews built and lost their Temple -- also where Jesus was crucified, and the Muslim prophet Muhammad is said to have ridden a fabled steed to heaven -- must remain their "united and eternal" capital. The chronology:
* In December of last year, Israel initiated moves to seize some 350 acres of land near the occupied West Bank village of Beit Hanina for a road adjoining a Jewish industrial development in northern Jerusalem.
* In March of 1980, with a sense of timing that had American negotiators banging their heads against Washington walls, the Israeli government announced it would also be taking some 1,000 acres of mostly Arab-owned Jerusalem land for the settlement town of Neve Yaacoy South. It was the first such major expropri ation moved in nearly a decade, and the second largest since Israel gained control of all the city and the adjacent West Bank of the Jordan River in the 1967 war.
* Some two months later, an ultranationalist Israeli politician proposed that the Knesset (parliament) reaffirm support for the Jewish state's unilateral 1967 annexation of Jerusalem (formally expanded at the time to include a part of the West Bank) as its capital. Neither Washington nor the rest of the world has accepted Israel's alteration of the city boundaries, much less the annexation.
* In June, officials around hard-line Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin revived talk of moving his office from predominantly Jewish west Jerusalem to the east of the city, the part wrested from Arab control in the 1967 Middle East war.
* In July, the Knesset's legal committee endorsed conservative backbencher Geula Cohen's draft bill tocement the Jewish claim to the entirety of Jerusalem, though it was her proposal that Egyptian President Sadat had cited as the catalyst for his May suspension of the Palestinian autonomy talks.
* Last week, on July 30, the Knesset passed the bill in full, thereby affirming into law a "united Jerusalem" as the capital of the Jewish state. because it objected to the law, Egypt for the second time in three months postponed the scheduled resumption of talks with Israel on Palestinian autonomy.
To hear Israeli officials tell it, each of their successive moves on Jerusalem was merely a "routine" reflection of an immutable fact -- that a Jcenterpiece in the 1967 fighting is not about to let Arab negotiators, or US Mediators, turn back the clock.
Israeli government officials note that the most controversial of their recent actions -- the announced revival of the post-1967-war campaign to dot formerly Arab areas of the city with stark Jewish apartment blocks -- had been on the drawing board for years. The minutes of the committee that drew up Israeli's official town plan for Jerusalem (both the minutes and the plan were obtained by the Monitor) indeed show a clear intention to plant the residential settlement of Neve Yaacov South on the undulating Arab hills in the northeast of the annexed city area.
The planning documents earmark three other tracts of predominantly Arab land, totaling some 2,000 acres, for development schemes likely to involve further expropriations.
To nearly everyone but the Begin government, and particularly to local Palestinian leaders whom Washington would like to lure into peace negotiations, Israel's reaffirmation of claims to all Jerusalem seemed anything but routine. The timing of the expropriation announcement for Neve Yaacov South, amid escalating violence on the West Bank and Egyptian demands that east Jerusalem Arabs at least get to vote in eventual autonomy elections, was seen as anything but accidental.
Even come Israelis seemed to smell a diplomatic rat. The hefty expropriation move, said the Jerusalem Post, was an "invitation to a showdown," the opening salvo in "the final round in the battle for Jerusamel which began in the  Six-Day War."
"The principal object of this [start on Neve Yaacov South] . . . is to establish the Israeli presence in east Jerusalem so firmly that the reunited city could never be divided again," commented the Post.
Prominent Jerusalem Palestinians went further. "The Americans keep telling us that if we negotiate in good faith, we will get a just peace," said one Palestinian politician. "But even Washington, which gives Israel billions of dollars in aid, can not keep settlements from going up on the West Bank.
"And on the issue of Arab Jerusalem, which for us is the key to the whole peace process, Israel spits in the Americans' faces and in our faces. The Israelis want to take so much of our land, and settle so many Jews on it, so that no one can ever make a just peace."
Inhabited some 4,500 years ago by shepherd people determined to keep other shepherd people from edging with the scorch of summer westward from the Jordan Valley's desert floor, the spring-fed hill settlement of Jerusalem has always found peace -- "just" or otherwise -- elusive.
When the Jewish King David overran the fortress town 1,000 years before Jesus , he hastened to make Jerusalem the ancient political equivalent of Washington, D.C., to keep his 12 client tribes from bickering over it. Some 20 times since, the city's towering walls have come tumbling down.
Fiece convictions of its holiness have fed conflict. The Jewish patriarch Abraham is thought to have sacrified his son Isaac in the vicinity, on the rocky eastern heights where the city began. On that spot Solomon built the first Jewish temple, destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. Under Persian patronage , the temple was rebuilt some five decades later. This time it was the Romans who tumbled it, and chased out the Jews, 70 years after Jesus' birth.
Jesus worshipped here. And he was crucified here, mounting the twisting cobbled streets inside the walls up to the cross.
When Muhammad founded Islam, in what is now western Saudi Arabia some six centuries later, he too, turned his eyes toward Jerusalem. As later Muslim writings have it, the prophet ascended to heaven only yards from the Wailing Wall, the sole surviving remnant of the Jewish temple complex.
"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."
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.
"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.'"
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.