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Reporter's Notebook: How the First Intifada shattered Jerusalem's 'mosaic'

Décembre 1987; première Intifada, ou "Révolte des pierres"
AFP
On the 30th anniversary of the First Intifada, Jerusalem's political fate takes yet another turn

In the first weeks of the Palestinian mass uprising that erupted first in the Gaza Strip and then spread to the West Bank, Jerusalem remained relatively quiet. The capital's ebullient mayor Teddy Kollek expressed confidence that the tolerant atmosphere he tried to foster in the capital, which he dubbed a "beautiful mosaic'' of separate communities living side-by-side in a harmonious whole, would immunize Jerusalem against the unrest setting the Palestinian territories aflame.

Kollek was, sadly, badly mistaken. Despite his undeniable best intentions, the eastern Arab half of his city had been neglected by authorities for decades, and its residents had never reconciled themselves to Israeli rule. Beneath its seemingly placid surface, Jerusalem was simmering, just waiting for a spark to set it alight.

That spark -- as in so many other times, places and circumstances throughout Israel's history -- was provided by Ariel Sharon. In December, then-Likud Minister Sharon announced he would be moving into an apartment in the heart of the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City, and would inaugurate his new abode with an event on the first day of Hannukah.

That evening a large delegation of local and international journalists gathered outside Sharon's new residence as various right-wing and far-right wing politicians and activists marched up to the apartment to take part in the festivities. But the party atmosphere was soon disrupted by crowds of young Arabs venturing up to police barricades and hurling rocks and stones. Tear-gas was fired in response, and a stinging mist soon spread through the Old City's narrow alleyways.

ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP

"This is only the beginning," demonstrators vowed, promising that Jerusalem would know now the kind of large-scale clashes seen in the West Bank and Gaza. And so it was; two weeks later a young Arab woman out hanging laundry in the north Jerusalem village of A-Ram was accidentally killed by a stray Israeli bullet during one such clash, and the violence in Jerusalem intensified. It would not calm down for years.

I reported on many of those dramatic incidents during the outbreak of the First Intifada as a young police and security correspondent for The Jerusalem Post, covering the city for the paper's local section. But the strongest memories I have are of the quieter moments of despair by Jerusalem residents caught in the middle of the cross-fire.

Among them were the Jewish residents of East Talpiot, who for years had lived in quiet coexistence with their Arab neighbors in the adjacent village of Jebel Mukaber, who woke up one day to find stones hurled by its young residents flying through their windows.

"Our children used to play football together with those boys,'' East Talpiot resident Judy Segal told me just hours after a large rock crashed through her living room window.

And then there were East Jerusalem's Arab store-owners, caught between demands from the Palestinian leadership they maintain a commercial strike, and efforts by the Israeli police to forcibly reopen their shops.

"Of course I'm sympathetic to the protesters, but I've got eight mouths to feed,'' one told me. Another, looking at the shop of a money changer on Salah A-Din Street that had been burned out after he defied the strike to remain open, said: "he made a mistake, and now he paid for it.''

MOHAMMED ABED (AFP)

So did Teddy Kollek, who hung on to win one more election but was finally booted from city hall by Likud challenger Ehud Olmert in 1993. Kollek, ``the greatest builder of Jerusalem since Herod the Great,'' indisputably bequeathed the city with a magnificent legacy during his years as mayor, but his concept of a beautiful mosaic was buried under the stones and bullets of the first intifada.

Is that final word? Asked about the historical impact of the French Revolution some 200 years later, the Communist Chinese leader Chou En-Lai famously replied: ``It is too soon to tell."

This week, on the 30th anniversary of the First Intifada, the political fate of Jerusalem has taken another turn, one that some have warned could lead to another intifada.

Yet whatever the future status of Jerusalem -- be it as ``the eternal capital of the Jewish people,'' a dual-or-divided city that serves the same function for both a Jewish and Palestinian state, or some new incarnation whose form is still not evident to even the most far-seeing minds -- the residents of Jerusalem, Jewish and Arab, Israeli and Palestinian, and the myriad other faiths and nationalities who call the city home, will still have to find a way to co-exist on a daily basis.

Is it possible that one day, under whatever political arrangement, Kollek's beautiful mosaic concept will finally find its true realization in Jerusalem?

It is too soon to tell.

Calev Ben-David co-hosts i24NEWS' `The Rundown' and lives in Jerusalem.

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