Shooting attack renews battle over Jerusalem
Palestine, International, 11/20/1997
The approximately 400 Israeli policemen on guard in the Old City of Jerusalem and private bodyguards from security companies did not prevent a shooting incident nor did they deter the perpetrators from opening fire with their AK-47 Kalashnikov automatic rifles on two Jewish settlers around midnight Wednesday.
The attack came as a surprise to the Israeli security establishment. Speaking in a radio interview Thursday morning, West Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Olmert said attacks on Jews were more possible in places like West Jerusalem, the scene of a series of suicide attacks by Hamas activists. He said the joint life of Jews and Arabs made attacks on Jewish individuals in the Old City of Jerusalem scarce. "The perpetrators of such attacks prefer to carry out their mission in areas were mostly Jews are and that is why they wouldn't attack in the Old City, home of Jews and Arabs alike," he claimed.
But the point is not as simple as Israeli officials depicted it. Jewish settlement activity in the Old City of Jerusalem was never considered by the Palestinian population as a natural neighborly relationship between Arabs and Jews. Jewish settlers in Jerusalem and in Hebron have always been considered personae non grata in the two cities. And the two settlers who were shot, one fatally and one seriously, are students in a Jewish seminary school run by Ateiret Cohanim, an organization that stood behind the takeover of many Arab houses in the Old City of Jerusalem and in areas surrounding the walls from the outside. Supported by leading US Jewish businessman Irving Moskowitz, Ateiret Cohanim has taken over houses in the Islamic Quarter as well as in the Christian Quarter of the Old City, houses on top of the Mount of Olives and at sites in other places in Jerusalem, including the Ras Al Amoud neighborhood where a Jewish settlement is in the making.
Olmert confirmed that neither Netanyahu nor anybody else can guarantee a total success against this kind of attack. However, he urged the Israeli government to take measures against the perpetrators with no regard to whatever repercussions these measures will have on the peace process.
Israel admitted that it is facing a real difficulty in investigating the attack due to lack of security coordination between the Palestine National Authority and Israel. This coordination, Palestinian sources said, has dropped to zero after the abduction last week by Israel of two Hamas members who were in Palestinian custody and were transferred from Hebron to Nablus. Palestinian officials then condemned the abduction and said it was a act of piracy. Opponents of the Palestinian government, however, claimed the Palestinian Preventive Security had coordinated the hand over of the two Hamas members to Israel. Demonstrations broke out in the village of Surif, home of the two Hamas members, in which Hamas activists openly charged the Palestinian government with extraditing the two prisoners to Israel.
Right after the shooting took place, Israeli troops arrested dozens of Palestinian suspects and closed the seven gates of the Old City of Jerusalem looking for the perpetrators. Yet, the long-term response of the Israeli government to the attack is not clear yet. In previous cases, Jewish settlers were allowed to take over houses in areas where they were attacked. This time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened a meeting of his security cabinet with security experts and ordered a police station be set on the site of the shooting and asked the Shin Bet, Israel's internal security apparatus, to do the maximum to arrest the perpetrators.
Extreme right wing Moledet party leader Rehva'am Ze'ev, meanwhile, called for an immediate response to the attack in the form of a major settlement thrust in the city. Deputy Education Minister Moshe Peled called on the prime minister to close the Orient House, to begin building the Jewish settlement in Ras al Amoud, to stop dealing in internal Likud politics and to focus on security issues. Deputy Housing Minister Meir Porush called for more money to be budgeted for securing Jewish settlements in the Old City. On the other side of the political map in Israel, Arab Knesset members and politicians called for the removal of the Jewish settlement from the Old City of Jerusalem, which, according to the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality bloc in the Knesset, forms a hotbed of clashes and conflict between Arabs and Jews.
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