Klilah Harnoy, a guide for Ateret Cohanim ("Crown of the Priests"), showcased Jewish properties in the Old City and outlined their vision as a religious organisation committed to preserving its Jewish character. Along with the Jerusalem Reclamation Project, they purchase properties throughout east Jerusalem, securing as many as 38 such sites thus far in the Christian and Muslim Quarters of the Old City. Together, they support 80 Jewish families living in these neighborhoods and plan to build at Jabel Mukaber and Abu Dis as well. They also have helped uncover underground structures further verifying the ancient Jewish connection to the Old City.
Harnoy, polished and energetic, related: "Our goals are simple. If we do not go there, then it is not ours. We want that feeling of connection to the whole of the Old City and all around the Temple Mount." Due to terrorist threats, they hire private security guards and now use "panic buttons"--which signal distress if one encounters trouble on the narrow streets.
"We don't intend to move," continued Harnoy. "We want that feeling of permanence, so we paint and repair places and plant gardens." A short film presented the rarely-heard message of how Jews lived throughout the Old City before the Arab riots of 1929 and 1936-39. Thus the Ateret Cohanim are returning to neighborhoods Jews once shared peacefully with Christians and Muslims. [Indeed, the Muslim Quarter was known as the "Mixed Quarter" during centuries of Turkish rule and in British Mandate times, hosting all three faith communities.]
Working closely with Ateret Cohanim is Yerushalayim Shelanu ("Jerusalem is Ours"), a new group of mainly secular Jews founded one year ago to "ensure a united Jerusalem under Israel." Fifteen of its members escorted 3 Jewish families into the house of American Jewish philanthropist Irving Moskowitz at Har Hatzeitim (Ras Al-Amud) last year. Several were injured in the ensuing Arab riot, while others faced the scores of international press which descended on the site. Recently, they have demonstrated peacefully at Har Homa and Orient House.
A visit to Orient House was marked by friendly glances between our tour host, Ronn Torossian of Yerushalayim Shelanu, and a guard at the complex gate. Torossian related they knew each other from a recent protest when his group "kindly chained their gate shut." Yerushalayim Shelanu is demanding Israel shut down Orient House, efforts complicated by then Foreign Minister Shimon Peres' secret 1993 letter to the PLO pledging to maintain the status quo of Palestinian institutions in east Jerusalem as part of the original Oslo deal. Orient House is one of as many as 25 sites reportedly operating as PA ministry offices in Jerusalem in violation of Oslo. Among these sites is said to be office space in the American Colony Hotel used by the PA's West Bank security chief Jabril Rajoub for various activities of his security apparatus in Jerusalem.
Jarouf Majad, a guard at Orient House, was arrested by Jerusalem Police recently in possession of a fake ID and a weapon belonging to Faisal Husseini, the PA minister responsible for Jerusalem affairs (Jerusalem Post, 16 April).
Majad told police he took the gun from Husseini's home in Jericho. Husseini was brought in for questioning on 15 April and, according to one report, denied owning the gun. He insisted that PA security forces do not operate in Jerusalem.
At Har Homa, Deputy Mayor David Cassuto defended the controversial stalled housing project as totally within Jerusalem's municipal boundaries, on lands owned by Jews (80 per cent) and the state (20 per cent). He said the units approved there for 7,000 Jewish residents were complemented by a city project nearby for 3,000 Arabs. Cassuto insisted the city had done its utmost to prepare for building and was hopeful construction of units could begin within two months, although the Prime Minister now has ultimate authority over the project.
Rampant Arab building also was apparent from the tour of east Jerusalem (see "The Building Battle for Jerusalem", January 1998 Digest).
A recent CAMERA publication, Arab Building in Jerusalem 1967-1997, documents the demographic shift in favor of the Arab sector, asserting that the Arab population has grown more rapidly than the Jewish community--163 per cent as opposed to 113 per cent--in the last 30 years.
Such a trend is likely to continue as a high birth rate and rich outside Arab investors expand the Islamic presence before peace talks finally determine Jerusalem's future.
Security efforts in the Old City have been sorely tested of late, as Arab terrorists have staged four ambushes of Jews in the past 6 months. These attacks claimed two lives, both students at the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva in the Muslim Quarter. Gavriel Hirschberg was shot late at night on 20 November 1997 (a fellow student was wounded) and Haim Kerman was stabbed to death on the way to morning prayers at the Western Wall on 6 May 1998.
With each incident, calls are renewed for a greater Israeli police presence. In recent days, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has ordered a new security plan for the Old City. Matti Dan, Director of Ateret Cohanim, approached Netanyahu with a proposal involving the stationing of police at points in eye contact with each other all along the main streets for Jews traveling from Damascus Gate or Jaffa Gate to the Kotel and others parts of the city.
Dan said: "We're speaking here about freedom of access to the holy sites... Just like a Muslim can get to the Temple Mount area, and a Christian to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, so a Jew has to get to the Western Wall." (The Jerusalem Post, May 14, 1998).