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Six Day War: The East Jerusalem Controversy

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Six Day War: The East Jerusalem Controversy

Six Day War: The East Jerusalem Controversy

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It was 40 years ago that the conflict which came to be known as the Six Day War began. All this week, we're looking at the legacy of that Arab-Israeli War, which fundamentally reshaped the Middle East. Today, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas called the start of the war a black day for Palestinians. One thing they lost was East Jerusalem. Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem is still not recognized internationally, and while East Jerusalem's Palestinian residents abhor Israeli rule, many like and depend on Israeli services and remain wary of the Palestinian authority. From Jerusalem, NPR's Eric Westervelt has this report.

ERIC WESTERVELT: When war broke out on the 5th of June 1967, the authorities in Jordanian-controlled East Jerusalem had made no emergency provisions for war. No medical or food supplies had been stockpiled. No bomb shelters had been built for civilians.

Hawla Daud(ph) was 11 years old then. She lived where she still does, in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of the city. Her rented house sits right next to what used to be the fence line, dividing Israeli West Jerusalem from the Jordanian-controlled East.

Ms. HAWLA DAUD (Resident, East Jerusalem): (Through translator) I remember when the war started, all the shooting. Our family didn't have a shelter. We didn't know where to go or what to do. The neighbors started talking about hiding in a cave in the orchard that was right over there, not far from our house.

WESTERVELT: Afraid and hungry, Hawla Daud says her family and six other families jammed into the tiny cave while the fighting raged around them. Jordanian soldiers retreated as Israeli paratroopers swept through the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Ms. DAUD: (Through translator) We only had bread and water in the cave. We came out after eight days, and I went to see what was inside the Jordanian army barracks nearby. It was quiet. I'll never forget. I saw two dead Jordanian soldiers inside the barracks.

WESTERVELT: By the end of June 1967, just three weeks after the war, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and offered citizenship rights to Palestinians. Most refused. Today, virtually all of the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have residency rights, but cannot vote in parliamentary elections that determine Israel's national government.

Hawla says back in '67, many Palestinians were unsure what to do.

Ms. DAUD: (Through translator) Some of the neighbors fled to Jordan. But I remember very well my father and mother saying, no way. Nothing will push us out of Jerusalem.

WESTERVELT: In many ways, the Daud family's struggles are emblematic of the problems faced by many Palestinians in the city since the '67 war. She and her husband, 60-year-old Abud Dasheik(ph), currently pay rent for their modest home to the Custodian for Absentee Properties, a division of the Israeli Finance Ministry. That's because their rented house is caught up in a long-running ownership dispute between Jewish and Palestinian families.

As the land dispute ricocheted through the Israeli courts, the Daud family grew increasingly worried about the precarious status of their rental. So in the late '90s, family members pooled their money and began to build a place of their own in Isawiyah, an East Jerusalem Arab neighborhood closer to the West Bank.

Abud steps over a rusted bed frame, a broken bathtub and other trashed remains of their Isawiyah home. One year after it was built, the Israeli authorities declared the house illegal. The Daud's hadn't gotten the proper building permits. Israeli bulldozers flattened the home.

Mr. ABUD DASHEIK (Resident, East Jerusalem): (Through translator) My sons and I worked five years in order to save money to build this house. And they came and demolished it in a minute. They crushed our future in a minute.

WESTERVELT: Abud works in construction, and many of his jobs are in the city's Jewish neighborhoods. He was renovating the home of an Israeli police officer when the demolition order came. In an ironic twist, that policeman happened to oversee the demolition of Abud's home.

Mr. DASHEIK: (Through translator) He said, I'm sorry. I have to implement the orders. He could do nothing.

WESTERVELT: Avid chain smokes and slowly sips from a tiny cup of strong Arabic coffee one of his old neighbors has brought out. This place my insurance in case we ever get evicted, he says. Now what do I do?

According to a recent World Bank report, between 1999 and 2003, Israel demolished 157 Palestinian-owned buildings in East Jerusalem after declaring them illegal. The World Bank called it a discriminatory practice that has led to housing shortages and stymied business and employment opportunities throughout East Jerusalem.

After their home in Isawiyah was demolished, the Dauds were disillusioned about their future in East Jerusalem. So they pooled what little money they had left and bought a small piece of land in Anata, a village next to Jerusalem, just inside the West Bank.

Mr. DASHEIK: (Speaking foreign language)

WESTERVELT: You see that land in concrete? They're digging the wall, Abud says, pointing to a barbed wire fence to a cement foundation on a small, grassy hill.

Israeli construction equipment sits nearby. His land is about to be cutoff from East Jerusalem, and Abud isn't allowed to build there. The property, it turns out, is too close to the separation barrier, a 460-mile long mix of fencing and cement walls that Israel is building in and around the West Bank in East Jerusalem.

Israel says the fence is necessary to stop suicide bombers and other Palestinian attacks in Israel. For Abud, the barrier was his family's final setback.

Mr. DASHEIK: (Through translator) The land is useless now. It's too close to the wall. They won't let me build.

WESTERVELT: Abud's daughter Fathain(ph) says even if the Israelis allowed to build in the occupied West Bank, the family can't risk getting cut-off from Jerusalem or losing their Jerusalem residency permits. Her mother Hawla needs dialysis several times a week for a kidney disease. Fathain says her mother prefers the Israeli medical care she gets in Jerusalem.

Ms. FATHAIN DAUD: (Through translator) If we build that house behind the wall, it will be very difficult to get to the hospital or get to our work. We will lose those rights.

WESTERVELT: In 2006, Israel granted more than 81,000 entry permits for Palestinians to receive medical care in Israel. Asked if her family would prefer to be under the Palestinian authority, Fathain mostly dodges the question. We are troubled by all the political confusion in the Palestinian authority, she says.

Israel writer Gershom Gorenberg says those conflicting feelings are widespread among East Jerusalemites, who are living under what he calls occupation deluxe.

Mr. GERSHOM GORENBERG (Israeli Writer): They are very, very resentful of their inequality, of harassment by the Israeli bureaucracy. And at the same time, they're terrified very often of the idea of being under the rule of the Palestinian authority, because the Palestinian authority is so corrupt because it's much poorer, because their livelihoods are really dependent on the Israeli economy. If there were really a plebiscite in East Jerusalem on what to do next, I don't think anybody really knows how that will come out.

WESTERVELT: Back in Isawiyah, amid the rubble of his home, Abud Dasheik lights another cigarette and mutters halas, it's finished. We've tried twice. I have no more money to risk. My priority now, Abud says, is just to keep my family together.

Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Jerusalem.

MONTAGNE: And you can read part one of our series and see maps showing how the region changed after the Six Day War by going to npr.org.

Tomorrow, long-time residents of West Jerusalem reflect on their city 40 years after reunification.

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