Tension in Old Jerusalem In Wake of Grenade Blast
Jewish settlements in the city's Arab quarter foster daily frictions
THE shops were shuttered and the streets of the Arab quarter of Jerusalem's old city were nearly deserted Nov. 17, in protest at a grenade attack the day before that killed a Palestinian shopkeeper.
But feelings were running high as police investigated claims by a Jewish extremist group that it was responsible for the blast, in a crowded alley of the souk, that also wounded eight other people.
"We want them out of here," Intisar Zarif Rishe, a Palestinian mother of nine said of her neighbors, Jewish settlers who have taken over several houses on the roof of the souk. "They do all these things, and no one punishes them. There is no justice for us."
Next door, Yaacov Itta, one of the religious settlers, denies that his associates had anything to do with the grenade attack. "We don't want the Arabs to live here," he acknowledges, "and we have come here so as to expel the Arabs, but little by little, legally, without using force."
The grenade, of a type issued by the Israeli Army according to police, was apparently tossed through a window high in the wall of the vaulted passageway housing the butchers' market. The window gives onto a roof just opposite the complex of houses where Jewish settlers have established three homes and a yeshiva.
Twenty minutes before the explosion, a man identifying himself as "David from Kahane Hai" phoned the daily newspaper Hadashot to claim responsibility for the action.
Kahana Hai is associated with the extremist group Kach, founded by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, who was assassinated in New York two years ago. The caller said the grenade attack was to avenge Kahane's death.
The incident, occurring just beneath the "Galicia Compound" Jewish settlement, highlighted the daily friction between the Palestinian residents of the old city and the 600 Jews, mainly yeshiva students, who have established themselves in 55 different buildings in the Arab quarter.
The windows of Ms. Rishe's house are protected by metal grilles, to save them from being broken by stones thrown by the yeshiva students, whose booklined study opens onto a courtyard just above her front door.
Yaacov Itta's windows are similarly barred. "The Arabs are always throwing stones at us," explains his wife, Yael. "One day they do it to us, the next day we do it to them," Mr. Itta adds.
Often covertly supported by the last Likud Party government, extremist Jewish settler groups such as Ateret Cohanim have made considerable progress over recent years in establishing themselves in nooks and crannies of the old city, outside the traditional Jewish quarter, and the settlers now live cheek by jowl with their reluctant Palestinian neighbors.
Sometimes the settlers have bought the houses, sometimes they have simply squatted in them, and other times, Palestinian activists complain, they have tricked old people out of their homes by making them sign forms they could not read.
Unwilling to walk through the maze of alleys and passageways that make up the souk, where they are vulnerable to attack by Palestinians despite regular Israeli Army patrols, the settlers have constructed their own network of walkways and bridges across the roofs of Palestinian homes, often protected by barbed wire fences, and lit at night by floodlights.
Each Jewish outpost, whether private home or yeshiva, is guarded by armed security men or soldiers, but Palestinians complain that the authorities do nothing to stop the settlers harassing their neighbors, who often live just an arm's length away in the clusters of houses piled atop of each other in the historic old city.
Ms. Rishe, for example, complains that the settlers regularly throw trash into her courtyard and spit at her children, a charge that the Jewish settlement guard confirms, and that they once left the innards of a dead cat on her doorstep.
"Do we speak to each other? Only to curse each other," she says.