Israelis turn Jerusalem into a foreign country

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The Independent Online
PATRICK COCKBURN

Jerusalem

A rally by Palestinian candidates at the Israeli checkpoint on the Mount of Olives was the first political event of the day. We told the taxi-driver to take us there, explaining we were going to a political demonstration. Another passenger, wearing the skullcap of a religious Jew, misunderstood our intentions.

He asked if we were going to a demonstration of Israeli settlers, protesting against a Palestinian election taking place in Jerusalem. He said he was a leader of the youth section of the right-wing Likud party, "but I am under strict orders not to get involved in anything".

Introducing himself as Jeremy Shock, an immigrant from Australia now working in the Jewish Agency, he said he was against the withdrawal from the West Bank. "I was told by Bibi Netanyahu, the leader of Likud, to do nothing." It was a confirmation that the Israeli right will not dare disrupt the elections tomorrow. It is too nervous of reminding voters about its role in the upsurge of violence which culminated in the killing of Yitzhak Rabin.

As we dropped Mr Stock, he predicted trouble if the government started to compromise. A few minutes later, on the Mount of Olives, Hanan Ashrawi, the best-known independent standing for the Palestinian Council, was complaining about Israel sealing off Jerusalem from the West Bank. Standing near the barrier where troops check Palestinians entering from the east, she said: "Jerusalem is being strangled."

Israel has gone to bizarre lengths to emphasise the poll in Jerusalem is different. Ballot boxes are different from those on the West Bank and votes are to be counted in Ramallah, to give the impression that Palestinians in Jerusalem are postal voters living in a foreign land.

In Salahudin Street, the main Palestinian commercial area, Majeda el- Batsh, sister of one of the candidates, Ahmed el-Batsh, had found a different way to campaign. She organised supporters to hand out carnations with the candidate's picture. "The problem is there has been no election for 27 years and people have only a few weeks to campaign," she said

Her brother, a former teacher who spent eight years in jail, is well known in the area and stands a good chance of winning one of the seven seats, though two are reserved for Christians. For many years a Fatah leader in Jerusalem, he is standing as an independent.

Yasser Arafat's decision to ignore many former Fatah militants and include other notables angered local Fatah leaders. Some, like Mr Batsh, decided to stand anyway. This is hardly likely to damage Mr Arafat's chances of winning the presidency, though: a poll yesterday showed him winning 80 per cent of the vote.

Samiha Halil, his only opponent, held an indoor rally in east Jerusalem this week which failed to attract a single Palestinian: the audience consisted of reporters and international election monitors.

Not everybody in Salahudin street was enthusiastic about the election. A money-changer said: "I don't really care about all this. These candidates can promise to do things in the rest of the West Bank but not here. In Jerusalem not one of them can deliver a licence to build a house because the Israelis are still in complete control." Jeremy Shock would have been glad to hear it.

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