Originally published 11 March 2001
in The Independent
A Florida millionaire's block of flats for Jewish settlers may start an intifada
do not much like unannounced visitors at the block of flats which is being
built for Jewish residents in Arab east Jerusalem by Irving Moskowitz, a
bingo millionaire from Florida.
"What do you mean by coming in like
that, as if it is your home," said the Israeli site supervisor, with one
of those what's-this-muck- on-my-shoe expressions reserved in Britain for
door-to-door double-glazing salesmen.
We were ordered back behind
the 12ft steel fence that separates the fortress-like apartment block from
the resentful Palestinian neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud, close to the Mount
Out on the street, he was no more accommodating. How many
rooms will the flats have, I asked. "Ask Moskowitz," he grunted. Who will
live here? "Ask Moskowitz." How much will they cost? "Ask Moskowitz. Hey,
what is this? You are like a lawyer, asking these questions?" And off he
The second Palestinian intifada started in Jerusalem just
over 23 weeks ago, detonated by a visit to the holy sites of the Old City
by Ariel Sharon, then leader of the opposition, now Prime Minister. Since
then there have been car bombs in Jewish west Jerusalem and shooting attacks
close to the city's northern and southern edges. But its Arab section has
been quiet, by comparison with the battle zones of Nablus, Hebron and Gaza.
In the first intifada cars with Israeli plates that strayed into Palestinian
areas were stoned and fire-bombed; so far, this has not happened on a large
Yet the area is tense. Its 200,000 Palestinian residents, who
pay Israeli taxes and benefit from social services, are better off than their
West Bank and Gaza counterparts, but they are increasingly feeling the economic
crisis caused by the unrest. The pressure is building; the Ras al-Amud housing
project might just be the issue that prompts the forces behind the uprising
to take the war into east Jerusalem.
The 132-flat complex is part
of the long campaign by fanatically ultra-nationalist Jewish groups to change
the demographics of Arab east Jerusalem, which was occupied by Israel in
1967 and later, in a move never recognized by the international community,
annexed. Soon, the block will be ready to receive the first residents, ideologically
driven settlers striving to secure Israel's control over all Jerusalem. The
vanguard of three families moved into a house next door several years ago.
Palestinian neighbours are preparing for the worst. "We really feel in danger
here," said Azzam Abu Saud, director of Jerusalem's Arab Chamber of Commerce,
who lives next to the site. "Our friends are too frightened to come to visit
us." But he stresses that he and his family will never leave.
will Khalid Hamdallah, a 35-year-old lorry driver, who lives with his nine
children in a one-storey house which now stands on an isthmus of land jutting
into the site on which the complex is being built. Bulldozers have carved
out the earth around part of his land, stranding his small olive grove on
top of a 20ft cliff on one side. He says he was offered a large sum to leave.
He, too, sees trouble on the horizon.
Will Ariel Sharon intervene,
by stopping the new settlers from moving in? His past record is discouraging.
He was at the centre of the affair that first alerted Jerusalem's Arabs to
a campaign of acquiring Palestinian properties by ultra-nationalist Jews
seeking to "redeem" the land. In October 1987, one such group announced that
it had rented a house to Mr. Sharon, then Minister of Trade, in the Muslim
Quarter of the Old City.
Mr. Sharon celebrated with an extravagant
house-warming party, attended by 700 prominent Israelis, and by draping the
walls with a huge Israeli flag. That sparked riots by the Palestinians, and
the incident is considered by some to be one of the factors that stoked the
Two-and-a-half years later, 150 settlers took possession
of St John's Hospice in the Old City's Christian quarter which was bought
from a Panamanian front company which had acquired it from its Armenian leaseholder.
There were worldwide protests and denunciations from Christian leaders. But
Mr. Sharon chose to pay the settlers a congratulatory visit.
both incidents Mr. Sharon's house and the hospice take-over was Ateret
Cohanim, an extremist settler group which receives much of its funding from
Israeli government officials are conducting a determined
publicity offensive to persuade the outside world that Mr. Sharon has put
his extremist past behind him and is a new, more pragmatic figure devoted
to peace. However, he remains an ardent Zionist who sympathizes with the
True, he told parliament last week that there
would be no new settlements. But he has also told the Americans that the
expansion of existing settlements built on occupied land in contravention
of international law can go on. Thus, more Arab land will be swallowed up
and permanent peace will be even harder to achieve.
are nervously trying to reassure themselves that the presence of the Labour
Party in his coalition government should keep him in check. But Ehud Barak,
the former Labour prime minister, was also a serial settlement builder, and
he did nothing to stop the new Moskowitz block from becoming another land
mine in an old battlefield.
Copyright 2001, The Independent. For education and discussion only. Not for commercial use.