Palestinians and Jews Anguish over Visions of Jerusalem Twenty-Five Years Ago, Israel Unified Jerusalem through War. but the Conflict over Its Future Continues

Article excerpt

IF you stand with your back to Damascus Gate, the most imposing entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem, looking left and right, the walls built by Suleiman the Magnificent in 1540 stretch away in an equally impressive bulwark against attack in both directions.

But little else is equal.

To the left, outside the walls in Jewish West Jerusalem, the excavations for a new road sweep by, and the skyline is dominated by cranes perching over bright new office blocks.

To the right, in traditionally Arab East Jerusalem, a few hundred yards and a world away, poorly maintained roads lead through neglected neighborhoods of inelegantly aging buildings.

On Sunday, Israelis will celebrate Jerusalem Day, the 25th anniversary of the unification of the city by their soldiers in the 1967 Six-Day War.

But for Jerusalemites such as Faisal Husseini, the Palestinian leader whose family has lived here for more than 700 years, the festivities recall only "the day my rights were violated." (Feud over Jersalem mosque, Page 6.)

And even some Jews have their reservations. Moshe Amirav, a Jerusalem city councilman, says he went to the Wailing Wall 25 years ago, a day after Israeli troops had captured it from the Jordanians, and in the Jewish tradition tucked a written prayer between its stones.

"I prayed for peace and for an ever-united Jerusalem," he recalls. "I look back today, and my prayer has not been fulfilled."

Jerusalem, once considered the center of the universe, fought over, besieged, and ransacked countless times in its 4,000-year history, holy to three religions, is a unique Gordian knot in the already almost-impossible tangle of relations between Arabs and Jews.

For almost all Israelis, exclusive and perpetual Israeli sovereignty over the whole city as the historic Jewish capital is the only conceivable future. But that status is diametrically opposed to the Palestinians' vision of the city as the capital of the state they hope to found one day, maintaining its tradition as the cultural, commercial, and political heart of their homeland.

The Israelis' old nightmare, that minefields and barbed wire might again divide Jerusalem as they did between 1948 and 1967, "is an idea that belongs to the past," says Gershon Baskin, co-director of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), which has been studying possible futures for the holy city.

Israeli building policy over the past quarter-century has seen to that, as Jewish housing settlements have mushroomed all over East Jerusalem to ensure "that the town could never be redivided," in the words of Jerusalem's city engineer, Elinoar Barzaki.

In a ring around the outer edge of the city, modern apartment blocks that now house 140,000 Jewish residents stand in stark contrast to traditional Arab family homes where 160,000 Palestinians live.

Built mainly on land confiscated by the Israeli government, the new high-rises have spread to encircle Palestinian districts in a frenzy of construction that is still going on, while Palestinians complain that they find it almost impossible to obtain a building permit.

The official figures speak for themselves. Since 1967, according to municipal official Nira Sidi, permits have been issued for 65,000 Jewish homes, and for only 8,000 Palestinian homes. …