Yom Kippur stirs Arab grievances: At no time has this 'undivided' city seemed more divided, writes Sarah Helm in Jerusalem on the Day of Atonement

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The Independent Online
AT THE Al Ram checkpoint north of Jerusalem yesterday, Palestinian drivers sweltered in the sun as they waited for permission to enter the city.

Pans of sticky delicacies were melting on large pans in the oriental sweetshop nearby as Mohammed Ali, the owner, bemoaned the 'Jewish holiday' that had stifled business for the day. 'Nobody can come here today. Nobody can move. They are scared to drive their car. They know they will be stopped at the checkpoints.'

Jerusalem - Jewish West and Arab East alike - yesterday marked Yom Kippur. On the West side silence fell as all businesses were closed, television went off the air, cars emptied from the streets and most Jews stayed home to observe the fast or walked to the synagogue to pray.

On the East side, the Arabs, Muslims and Christians tried to carry on as normal. Here business was also quiet. Worshippers from the West Bank could not come to Jerusalem to pray, children could not come to schools, staff and patients could not reach their hospitals. Post offices were closed. There were few buses and cars. Even the newly formed Radio Palestine, broadcasting from Jericho, had to fall silent on Yom Kippur, because the station is dependent on Israeli telecommunications.

Israel has decreed that Jerusalem is an 'undivided city', and East Jerusalem has been unilaterally annexed to Israel, making it dependent on Israeli services.

To ensure that Arab East and Jewish West remain a part of Israel forever, the east side of the city has been severed from its West Bank hinterland by a ring of checkpoints, which restrict the entry of Arabs to their de-facto capital.

At no time does this 'undivided city' seem more divided than on this Jewish Day of Atonement. The spray of glass and rocks, hurled by children on the Jewish side of Jerusalem's Route 1, provides an ugly metaphor for this division. Cars that venture on Jerusalem's roads on Yom Kippur are liable to be stoned by Jewish youths who police the 'No cars' rule. Route 1 runs between West and East, and is the main road normally used by Arabs travelling to and from the West Bank.

Since the Oslo accords were signed last year, the Palestinians have been talking of the new 'siege of Jerusalem'.

Whatever autonomy the Palestinians may win in the West Bank and Gaza, they will not win back control of East Jerusalem, insists Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Prime Minister. Israeli policy has therefore been directed at reinforcing the Judaisation of the city by tightening the restrictions on Arab access.

Israel's 'siege' policy has so far successfully stifled all attempts by Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, to pursue his battle to win East Jerusalem as a capital of his hoped-for Palestinian state. Mr Arafat's attempts to build up his national authority headquarters in Jerusalem have been blocked at every stage by Israel. Rather, the offices of Mr Arafat's new authority are being forced to move outside the Israeli-occupied city. Mr Arafat, who has been in his Gaza enclave for more than two months, has so far been refused permission to come to Jerusalem.

The siege of Arab East Jerusalem will not stop with the end of Yom Kippur. This week Mr Arafat failed in his attempt at the Paris donors meeting to win aid money to expand those institutions which do exist. He has failed to block Jewish settlement. This week plans to go ahead with new Jewish settlement of 7,500 homes at Ha Homa in East Jerusalem were confirmed. When Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War there were no Jewish residents. Today there are about 160,000 Jews living on the East side and 150,000 Arabs.

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