Worried settlers build fence

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JERUSALEM - While the US Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, spoke in Jerusalem yesterday about mending fences between Israelis and Arabs, the people at the bus-stop in East Talpiot, a Jewish settlement in east Jerusalem, were talking about building a fence - a long, high fence - to keep the Arabs out, writes Sarah Helm.

Opposite the bus-stop is a shrine: a small pile of stones with a Star of David flag. Here a week ago a Jewish man, Yehezkhel Mizrahi, 35, was stabbed to death at 6am. The police believe an Arab was to blame.

From this stretch of road, high on a hill, there is a panoramic view across the Jordan Valley. East Talpiot is one of many Jewish settlements built across the old Green Line after the Six-Day war of 1967. The land was declared state land and built upon, although the Palestinians living nearby said much of it was theirs.

Commuters waiting at the bus- stop, many of them recent immigrants, look out over a string of Palestinian villages connected by pot-holed, dusty roads. Immediately abutting the new tarmac and bright apartment blocks of East Talpiot are the flat-roofed ramshackle houses of Jabel Makaber and Sur Bahir, the two nearest Palestinian villages from where Mizrahi's murderer is believed to have come.

The attack is the latest in a series of clashes on the Jerusalem 'front line'. Israeli cars are frequently stoned or torched. After the murder, Israelis from East Talpiot attacked nearby Palestinian homes.

Now the residents of East Talpiot have called for a security barricade to be erected, causing a political storm. Members of parliament from all sides have objected, saying the fence would become a symbol of division and would do no good. The Mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, says his is a 'unified city'. Under enormous pressure from the residents he has agreed to the fence, adding however: 'Talk about fences will not change the fact that Jerusalem is an open city . . . nobody can build a Chinese wall between Arab and Jewish neighbourhoods.'

At the bus-stop yesterday an elderly woman said: 'I don't think the wall will stop people killing, but it might make us easier at heart. I came from Egypt,' she added, 'I don't think we can ever live together. They are not our friends.' Gabi Cohen, a 21-year-old student, said sadly: 'They hate us. But the fence might make us feel safer.'

Across in Sur Bahir, the Palestinians say they really do not mind if the Israelis build a fence. 'That mountain has been Palestinian land for hundreds of years. I watched them build East Talpiot on our land - a fence is just one more thing,' said Mohammed Atun, a teacher.

On arrival in Israel Mr Christopher called for 'normalised relationships' between Palestinians and Jews. Commenting on this, Mr Atun said: 'If the Jews want to build a fence it just shows they are more afraid of Arabs.'