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Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian east Jerusalem explain why Palestinians are ready to return to war against the encroaching Zionists.


Jerusalem, "City of Peace", remains the first and last bastion of both Palestinians and Israelis in their century-long war for possession of Palestine.

Israel is waging this war with bulldozers and bricks, building permits and administrative orders. The Palestinians' only weapon is their determination to remain samud - steadfast. But today, even their steadfastness is under challenge.

On 18 March, Israeli bulldozers took possession of a south-east Jerusalem hilltop known to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim and to Israelis as Har Homa. For Binyamin Netanyahu's right-wing Israeli Government, this was a victory in a key skirmish in the final battle for Jerusalem.

It is a battle that need never have been waged, for the Palestinians are prepared to "share" Jerusalem with the Israelis. But the Israelis demand exclusive possession and sole sovereignty.

During Israel's war of establishment in 1948, Jerusalem was divided. The new Jewish

state won control of the western sector and suburbs and Jordan secured the eastern areas, including the walled Old City, with its religious sites sacred to Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and its spreading suburbs.

The world community rejected this division and called for the "internationalisation" of Jerusalem. But division persisted until Israel occupied and annexed east Jerusalem in 1967, proclaiming united Jerusalem as its exclusive, "eternal capital".

This reunification-by-occupation is considered illegal by the United Nations and the rest of the world community, including Israel's loyal ally, the United States.

Nearly 30 years after reunification, the holy city remains divided demographically. Israeli civilians rarely visit Palestinian east Jerusalem, Israeli taxi drivers refuse to carry passengers there from the Jewish western sector of the city, and Palestinians without work in west Jerusalem do not go there.

Israeli Jews are encouraged to settle in Jerusalem, particularly in the half-dozen fortified settlements built since 1967. Meanwhile, Israel is revoking the residence permits of hundreds of Palestinians, who are being forced into administrative exile from the city of their forefathers.

Israel has built 38,000 family houses for 170,000 Jewish settlers on confiscated Arab land, tipping the population balance against the 160,000 Palestinian residents of east Jerusalem, who are denied permission to construct new homes. The Har Homa colony will add 30,000 settlers and create a definitive Jewish majority. Palestinian homes built without permits are demolished.

While west Jerusalem flourishes financially, east Jerusalem withers, a commercial centre cut off by the Israeli army from its West Bank economic hinterland.

High Israeli taxes impoverish and bankrupt merchants who have no trade. East Jerusalem continues under military occupation. Israeli army lorries - windows covered with heavy-duty mesh screens - ply the roads. Knots of armed soldiers in flak jackets lounge on street corners. The local Israeli administrative and police headquarters are surrounded by high iron fences topped with razor wire.

Israelis claim that the entirety of Jerusalem is theirs by right of religion, history and conquest:

Religion, because exiled Jews have prayed for the past 2,000 years for their "return" to the city founded by King David.

History, because only the Jews have proclaimed Jerusalem as the official capital of a polity, first of the ancient Jewish kingdoms and then of the modern Jewish state.

Conquest, because the Israelis say they won the city fair and square after being attacked by the Arabs in 1967.

But their claims are rejected by Palestinians who say that Christians and Muslims have equally important religious connections with the city, where Jesus Christ preached and was crucified and the Prophet Muhammad performed a mystic pilgrimage. Palestinians claim direct descent from the ancient peoples native to the country, and contend that the Jews had abandoned Jerusalem for nearly 19 centuries before the Zionists preached "the return" to Jewish communities scattered throughout the world.

Although the city was never the capital of a state under Christian or Muslim rule, it was the seat of local government of the Byzantine and Muslim empires. And it was always an administrative and cultural centre for the Palestinians, who now claim it as the future capital of the state they intend to establish in the West Bank and Gaza.

Palestinians and Arabs argue that it was Israel which attacked the Arabs in a colonial war of expansion in 1967 by launching pre-emptive strikes against Egyptian airfields early on the morning of 5 June, 1967, and winning the Six Day War before it even began.

It is this Israeli propensity for pre-emptive action which precipitated the present crisis, jeopardising the peace process.

By building on Jabal Abu Ghneim/Har Homa, located between east Jerusalem and Bethlehem, the Netanyahu government seeks to complete the circle of Jewish settlements around east Jerusalem and cut it off from the West Bank. The objective is to pre-empt negotiations with the Palestinians on the "final status" of the city.

Israel's actions constitute a flagrant violation of the Oslo Accords, which hold that neither side should alter the status quo pending the outcome of negotiations.

The previous Labor government deferred building at this site.

For Palestinians, construction there is proof of Netanyahu's bad faith and determination to wreck a peace process he and his Likud colleagues do not support.

Without the expectation of a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, there would have been no peace process, no Oslo Accords, no breakthrough in the Middle East. Palestine is the heart of the Arab-Israel dispute and Jerusalem its soul.

For Arabs, the planned construction is one more excellent reason to freeze normalisation of relations with the Jewish state and re-erect the wall of hostility surrounding Israel.

For Muslims, the hilltop is a rallying cry - a cry of rage over Israel's actions and the inaction of the international community in the face of provocation. Har Homa is a casus belli (justification for conflict), for those who cannot make all-out war against an all-powerful Israeli enemy. Their only option is to withhold peace.

[About the Author: MICHAEL JANSEN was born in the US, lives in Cyprus, and has covered the Middle East for many years. His books include the indispenable history of the Israeli holocaust against Lebanon in 1982, "The Battle of Beirut"].

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