Meanwhile, out on the streets, capital is relentlessly changing

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The Independent Online

A couple of Saturdays ago we faced the sort of dilemma that always seem to strike on the sabbath. We invited friends to our garden on the Street of the Prophets, two minutes from Zion Square, the hub of Jewish west Jerusalem.

A couple of Saturdays ago we faced the sort of dilemma that always seem to strike on the sabbath. We invited friends to our garden on the Street of the Prophets, two minutes from Zion Square, the hub of Jewish west Jerusalem.

But we were out of bread and needed something to go with the drinks. On Saturdays the shops on our side of town are closed and plumbers and technicians are in the synagogue or at the beach. There are no buses but Jerusalem is not sleeping. Not all of it, anyway.

I walked towards the Old City, turned left before the Damascus Gate, and in 10 minutes was on Salah ed-Din Street, named after Saladin, who vanquished the Crusaders. Salah ed-Din was bustling with Arab shoppers. I bought peanuts and picked up a bag of sesame-seed rolls with a twist of za'ata (hyssop).

For all the mantras of Jerusalem "the undivided, eternal capital of the Jewish people", a third of its 600,000 residents are Palestinian Arabs.

They kept their Jordanian passports, taught the Jordanian school curriculum, spoke their own language and lived and shopped in their own neighbourhoods (though many worked in Jewish ones).

The Israelis annexed east Jerusalem but the divisions remained and they were reinforced when the intifada revolt erupted in 1987.

Israelis stayed away from the Old City bazaar, shunned Salah ed-Din Street and no longer took their cars to be resprayed in Wadi el-Joz.

Since the daily violence receded after the 1993 Oslo accords, tension has decreased. Hardier Israelis go to eat houmous at Abu Shoukry's café but most keep their distance.

A parallel administration has taken root in Jerusalem as Yasser Arafat's Palestinian Authority has grown in confidence. Jamil Othman, district governor of Al Quds (the Arabic name for Jerusalem), takes care of the city's 200,000 Arabs from his office in Abu Dis, just across the West Bank border. The Palestinians have their own police, who patrol in civilian clothes and keep their guns out of sight (just).

If our gardener, Jamil, needs medical treatment he goes to Makkassed hospital, managed by the Palestinian health ministry. Jamil's children go to Palestinian schools under minimal Israeli supervision.

Above all, Mr Arafat has consolidated the Muslim grip on the Haram el-Sharif, where Solomon and Herod built their Jewish temples.

Although Israeli police reserve the right to maintain law and order there, the mount is increasingly a no-go area for Israel. On the mount, as in Salah ed-Din Street, Jerusalem is already divided.

As Roni Shaked, a journalist who covers Palestinian affairs for the Israeli mass-circulation Yediot Aharonot newspaper, acknowledged: "Only the details remain to be finalised."

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