Jerusalem Diary: April - July 2008
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 April - July 2008

On 22 July, a Palestinian driving a bulldozer in a West Jerusalem street struck and wounded at least 16 peoplebefore being shot dead by a passerby. Ghassan Abu Tair from Umm Tuba was a Jerusalemite related to Palestinian Legislative Council member MuhammedAbu Tair, who has been detained by Israel for over two years. Ghassan wasapparently mimicking another attackon 2 July, in which three people were killed and the Palestinian bulldozer driver was also shot. Israeli settlers have also carried out several stabbing attacksand rampages against Palestinians inJerusalem in recent months.

The most recent violence came one daybefore US presidential hopeful ObamaBarack was to make a close-up forayinto the Middle East conflict. Barack is expected to visit Israeli and Palestinianofficials in Jerusalem and Ramallah, as he tours the region and showcases hisforeign policy before the Novemberelections.

Obama told the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that Jerusalem “Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remainundivided” thus appearing to come down more hawkishly than other US leaders onthe issue.

In 1947, the UN designated Jerusalem asa corpus separatum under internationalauthority, and has rejected Israel’s occupation of the city in multipleresolutions. Palestinians seek to establish a capital in the eastern side of Jerusalemoccupied since 1967.

Obama’s aides subsequently sought to reframe his remarks. “He has repeatedlysaid that Jerusalem is a final status issue to be negotiated by the parties,” one aidetold the press. “Jerusalem would remainIsrael’s capital. It should not be divided with barbed wire and checkpoints as itwas between 1948 and 1967.”

Saqer Al Tamimi, a 42-year-old merchant from Ramallah, told the AP that he used to support Obama. “We used to expect he would be better because he’s black, and black people were subject todiscrimination, and so they may do us,the Palestinians, justice,” Al Tamimi said. “Unfortunately, when they reach a certain level, the policy is already formulated forthem.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was meeting Tuesday at the time of the bulldozer attack with Israeli President Shimon Peres at his Jerusalem residence, in a series of summits commenced in Annapolis Maryland in November lastyear. The two sides are being encouraged to try to come to a final status agreementbefore the end of 2008, when the Palestinian and American administrations reach the end of their terms. Elections are also widely expected in Israel due tocorruption allegations centered on PrimeMinister Ehud Olmert.

The talks appear to have little traction,however, and analysts believe it will be difficult for the parties to implement any agreement, which would include a pacton Jerusalem, due to their weak domestic positions.

Engineer Mustafa Abu Zahra, Head of Committee caring for the Islamiccemeteries in Jerusalem, told al-Quds newspaper on July 18 that Israeli policehad removed a sign marking Bab al-Rahmah Cemetery near an area whereIsraeli parties had dumped topsoil inpreparation for turning the area into apublic park. The cemetery is 1,400 years old, and the committee says it will try toremove the soil itself in order to preventthe area’s transformation.

In addition, the al-Kurd family in SheikhJarrah received notice from the Israeli High Court that they must vacate thehome where they have lived since 1956.The court accepts Israeli claims that theproperty was owned by Jews previouslyand therefore, that the al-Kurd family isonly renters.

The area where the home is located is near the Tomb of Simon the Just, which has been a recent focus of Israeli settlement activities. Observers say thegoal is to create a ‘line of Israeli control’from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhoodnear Damascus Gate, to the City of Davidsettlement near Bab il-Mugharibeh onthe other side of the Old City. Settlement efforts have also intensified near Jaffa Gate, transforming the appearance andcharacter of Jerusalem’s walled town.

“The Israeli intention is to expel 500citizens from 28 families from the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, inaddition to expelling 1,500 Jerusalemresidents 88 houses in the Silwan neighborhood,” Ahmed Ruweidi of the Jerusalem Affairs ministry told PNN. “There have been decisions to demolish 32 housing units in ‘Issawiya village.Fifty-five Palestinian families havebeen threatened with the demolition of their houses in the neighborhood of Al Ashquariyya in Beit Hanina, and thereare 250 houses in the Mount of Olives that have also been threatened with demolition.”

Palestinians also protested the openingof a European Union Tempus office intended to serve Israel in the city ofJerusalem, alongside the opening ofa Tempus office for higher education support in Ramallah to serve Palestinians. Palestinians said the move recognizedIsrael’s control of the city, despite international resolutions.