`Between a hammer and a jack'


Peace: Palestinians in Jerusalem with close connections to Israel have a lot to gain from a settlement but could wind up losing more.

June 04, 2000|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

JERUSALEM - Kamees al Salyma and his neighbors in the north Jerusalem enclave of Beit Hanina, with their Palestinian roots but also strong ties to Israel, ought to be prime beneficiaries of a future peace.

Instead, the young man and his community are trapped between clashing visions of a final settlement and could end up as losers.

Al Salyma, 21, belongs to the Palestinian generation that took to the West Bank streets by the thousands last month, hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails, and firing live ammunition at Israeli soldiers.

He has an old grievance: A beating by an Israeli soldier when he was a teen-ager injured his eardrum and sent him to the hospital.

Nevertheless, he says, "there's no trouble between me and Israelis."

One day, as many of his contemporaries were gearing up for more "days of rage," al Salyma was on his walkie-talkie trying to solve a problem at his job. A truck driver hauling construction materials, he was asked where to find ancient-looking stones for a restoration project next to the Western Wall, Judaism's most revered site.

That an Arab would be enlisted for help near the shrine tells something about a side of life here that's seldom talked about and may ultimately be sacrificed on the altar of peace.

In a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, al Salyma could lose the treasured blue identity card that lets him deliver his goods throughout Israel.

A similar fate has befallen many Palestinians in the autonomous parts of the West Bank and Gaza. In recent years, they have been denied access to jobs in Israel because of repeated border closings and permit requirements.

As a result, the Palestinian economy remains in a sorry state seven years after the Oslo accords, with high unemployment that contributed to the recent riots.

Where the Israeli dream of peace would leave al Salyma is equally worrisome. Prime Minister Ehud Barak says that "Jerusalem will remain united under our sovereignty" but also calls for "separation" between Israelis and Palestinians, with "us here and them there."

Beit Hanina and al Salyma fall somewhere in the middle.

Once part of the West Bank under Jordanian rule, Beit Hanina came within the expanded Jerusalem boundaries after Israel occupied Arab sections of the city in 1967.

Their Jerusalem status lets its residents hold jobs in Israel. But out of loyalty to the cause of Palestinian statehood, most reject their right to vote in municipal elections. That leaves the 180,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem with no political influence, leading to what Israelis and Palestinians agree is a historic woeful neglect of Arab sections of the city.

Those sections house a third of the city's population and get 7 percent of the local budget, according to a report by Ir Shalem, the Jerusalem project of Peace Now.

Al Salyma gestures across Beit Hanina's dreary main road toward the large Jewish settlement of Pisgat Ze'ev a few city blocks away.

"They have playgrounds and parks," he says. "Their streets are cleaner. There is not enough sanitation here."

Beit Hanina also has suffered from a local policy of limiting Arab population growth to preserve the city's large Jewish majority. With continued expansion of Jewish settlements, almost half of the population in historically Arab East Jerusalem is Israeli.

Residents of Beit Hanina say it is all but impossible to get permits to expand or build their houses. But illegal construction continues, with owners risking fines or one of the most widely condemned of Israeli practices, house demolitions.

Because many of Beit Hanina's residents hold decent jobs and others draw support from family members abroad, the illegal new homes and apartment buildings are big and comfortable, giving the neighborhood a prosperous feel that is rare in the West Bank. As Palestinian cities exploded last week, Beit Hanina remained quiet.

And residents want to keep what they have. When word leaked to the news media that Beit Hanina might be turned over to the Palestinian Authority, property values dropped, says Danny Seidmann of Peace Now.

"We're between a hammer and a jack," says Abdel Majid Ramadan, a local "mukhtar," or tribal leader, who wears Bedouin robes and proudly keeps pictures of Jordan's royal family in the upstairs sitting room of his sprawling house.

"When you work in Israel you make three times as much," says Ramadan, whose seven sons work in Israel. He adds up other benefits: medical care, social security, a stronger educational system and a civil court system where "you're almost treated with equality." As he speaks, one of his sons enters the room with an Israeli friend.

Ramadan doubts that the fragile, young Palestinian Authority can deliver as much. Others refer in scathing terms to the corruption and cronyism seemingly tolerated by Yasser Arafat.

But a strong current of Palestinian nationalism runs side by side with economic ties to Israel.

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