Ras Al Amoud showdown: the other side of the conflict
Palestine, Politics, 9/19/1997
"I expect so many bad things to happen. The Palestinians have seemingly lost hope that by peaceful means they can achieve something. Now they are very likely to resort to violence," said leading Israeli peace activist Uri Avneri as he joined a couple of dozens of Peace Now members who protested outside the seized Arab houses in the Ras Al Amoud neighbourhood in East Jerusalem. Avnery did not believe the compromise reached between the prime minister's office and American Jewish tycoon Irwin Moskowitz has any chances of survival. "They believe they can fool the Palestinians with this stupid compromise but of course they cannot. The compromise simply allows settlers to stay in the houses but disguised as seminary students and not a single Palestinian would be ready to accept this."
Dozens of Peace Now activists had gathered themselves as of the second day after the houses were taken over by the settlers. They set up a tent and established what they called a protest camp next to the seized houses. Later they were joined by many Arabs, mainly youths whose motivation is not only political. Curiously enough, Arab children would approach the protesting Israelis and utter a few words in Hebrew, words they learn in the street or at school if they happen to be studying in schools that were run by the Jordanian government before 1967 and are now run by the West Jerusalem municipality.
Yossi, a Peace Now activist, said he has many reasons to demonstrate and even participated in this protest camp. "First of I want the Palestinians to know that there are Israelis who stand by their demands and rights. Secondly, I want to send a loud message to our government that without accepting the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, we will remain trapped in the current cycle of violence and war," he said. Yossi does not agree with voices from within the right wing camp in Israel that strongly attacked Peace Now for supporting the Arab owners of the houses.
Certain circles within the right said Peace Now has condoned "acts of Arab terror" with their support but Yossi said the result is exactly the opposite. "I believe that apart from our political message to the Palestinian people and to the Israeli government, we do have a human message to the Palestinians that the road is still open for political fight and passive struggle without having to resort to suicide bombings or attacks on civilians." "Imagine," he said, "what will happen if the Arabs were left on their own to face those settlers who are not only guarded by police forces but are also armed to their teeth. A lone Palestinian might decide to take them out by blowing himself up next to the building and this is enough to flare up the whole situation." Yossi said the presence of left wing protestors next to the house has helped to defuse the desperation that many Palestinians hold deep in their soul because of the present situation.
Yossi was interrupted by a young Israeli girl in her early twenties. "Lunch is ready," she said as two others brought in a number of plastic plates full of hummous, the famous oriental dish which has in itself become a centre of cultrual conflict between Arabs and Jews. While Arabs insist hummous, made of ground chick peas and sesame oil, is theirs, Israelis say it dates back to the days of the old testament and present it worldwide as Israeli food. In minutes, many hands fought their way to the hummous plates. All were hungry. It looked like it was their first meal for the day, though it was already late afternoon. "Yes, we have had nothing to eat since this morning. We were busy building up our forces here and setting our tent where we will spend our nights until this matter is all over," said Yossi.
A few meters away from the "hummous party" dozens of Israeli policemen and border guards took positions and restricted the movement of people along the narrow alleyway that goes through the Ras Al Amoud neighbourhood and connects the main road with the a church inside. Amazed at the sight of so many policemen, tourists--who came to visit the church--looked around and some of them showed a bit of interest in what was going on. One stayed behind and traded a few words with an Arab youth standing nearby. Their conversation did not last long. The tour constructor, an Israeli apparently, was in a hurry and called her to join the group. Other tourists couldn't care less. They just headed forward, giving only a short look at the house out of the corner of their eyes.
"The settlers are occupying my property and are using my office as a shelter from the heat and the night frost whilst my brothers, my children and myself are not allowed to use any kind of shelter. The police are refusing to allow us to use a tent. The border police units are sitting with the settlers under their sun shade most of the time," said Ziad Hammad, the 42 year old owner of a local bus company in Ras Al Amoud. He said the settlers broke into the parking lot that belongs to his bus company next to the area claimed by Moskowitz and stressed that his father had rented the site from its landlord back in 1951 and has as such become a protected tenant, according to the Jordanian law at the time.
"There is no chance for these settlers to stay here," said Ziad. He added that the settlers "cannot live in this neighbourhood because they are dangerous bandits. My business is ruined and at the same time, these bandits are paid to destroy my livelihood. There are 15 people who depend on my business. I want to keep running my business no matter who the owner is and I have not committed any crime," he said. The local village mukhtar, head of the commuity, confirmed that not a single transaction was ever brought to his attention involving this land. Usually, all land transactions in Arab villages are brought to local mukhtars for clarification and registration purposes.
Ziad's brother, Rateb, had a frightening experience with the settlers. He said the night the houses were taken over and the parking lot broken into, he was the first to arrive to the site. They were out for dinner and had returned close to midnight last Sunday. "I saw our bus being lifted up by a crane. I tried to stop in the middle but I felt a gun point in my back. One settler told me in Hebrew, which I speak, that he had bought the land and that I had neither business nor right to interfere." Ziad said he returned to where a police force was watching and sought their help. A police officer said he had no instructions to interfere, Ziad said. Later, the crane dropped the bus on the road and debris littered the street.
A tile factory next to the houses has had its businesses damaged since the takeover of the houses. Nadwa Hamdan Ayed, the factory manger, said in a statement she released to the press that she is trying "against all political and economic odds to carry on my family's tile business." "I am trying to carry on a normal life and to contribute in a small way to sustain the difficult economic life of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. My goals are very simple: I want to live in peace and give my family and children a decent life," she said. A relative of Nadwa said the presence of police troops so close to the entrance to the factory has detered people from coming through. "Our business has dropped by a large percentage."
Apart from the political and national aspects of the conflict between the Palestinians and the new invaders, as many Palestinians now call them, another side, which is not less important, also applies. The personal showdown between Palestinians and Israelis has gone into grave perspectives a few days ago when one of the Jewish settlers slapped a Palestinian woman under the nose of Israeli police. The woman stood at the entrance to the parking lot that belongs to the bus station and blocked the way for the settler, who was armed with a sub-machine gun and driving a rented car. He wanted to park the car inside but the tenants had insisted it was their right to prevent him from doing so. After the slap on her face, the woman went to the police officer in the area to file a complaint. She said the officer refused to listen to her and suggested that she should go to the police headquarters in West Jerusalem.
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