Jewish Community At Center Of Storm Is Calm Residents of the Jewish community of Ramat Shlomo, located in East Jerusalem, say they are unfazed by the international furor surrounding the announcement that 1,600 homes will be built there. But Palestinians say Israel is trying to push the Arab population out of the area.
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Jewish Community At Center Of Storm Is Calm

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

Israel today eased restrictions on Palestinians entering Jerusalem to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque - this after several days of sporadic violence and tension. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also trying to ease diplomatic tension with the U.S. Today, he praised President Obama's commitment to Israel's security, but he gave no indication that Israel will go along with a key U.S. demand that Israel rescind an order to build more Jewish homes in East Jerusalem, an area Palestinians want as the capital of their future state.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from the community at the heart of the dispute.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: There may be an international furor surrounding the announcement that 1,600 homes will be built in Ramat Shlomo, a community located in East Jerusalem on land captured by Israel during the 1967 war. But residents here say they are completely unfazed.

(Soundbite of children chattering)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Perched on an isolated hilltop next to the Palestinian Shuafat refugee camp, this is a mostly ultra-Orthodox area. It's tranquil, self-contained, with wide streets and uniform, square apartment buildings. Standing next to a playground, Sinqua Vale(ph) says most residents here focus on their religious studies and pay little attention to the outside world. He says he doesn't understand what all the fuss is about.

Mr. SINQUA VALE: It's like a non-issue here. It's like a non-issue. We just go about our life here. They announce in the paper one day, and the next day there's a big ruckus, yeah, after. And we couldn't care less - too much about it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Vale says there is a housing crunch here. The ultra-Orthodox have large families, and tend to be less well-off because the men traditionally study religious texts rather than work. He notes that new units won't be built for years. He says he believes this area belongs to Israel.

Mr. VALE: I don't think about it. I just live here. It's not we don't feel like you're living on disputed territory.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ramat Shlomo does feel like the calm at the center of a storm. While the streets of the Jewish community were quiet this week, in several Palestinian areas nearby, violence was raging.

(Soundbite of explosion)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: On one side of the street, it is crowded with Palestinian youths waving Palestinian flags and throwing rocks. On the buildings here beside me are Israeli soldiers, who are firing teargas canisters into the crowd to try and keep them back. This is one of several confrontations that has been taking place all over the city of Jerusalem and in the West Bank today.

These two different realities are at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and they play out most obviously in Jerusalem. Khalil Tufakji is a Palestinian expert on settlements. He says Palestinians are angry at the proposed expansion of Ramat Shlomo because he says it proves that Israel is trying to push the Arab population out of the land they want for the capital of their future state.

Mr. KHALIL TUFAKJI (Palestinian Settlement Expert): First of all, there's a they have their plan. East and West Jerusalem would be under Israel control. Israel makes tracks and grids on the ground. They want to expand the Jewish inside East Jerusalem.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Israel has proclaimed Jerusalem the undivided capital of the Jewish state, and says that it has the right to build in any sector of the city. But Naomi Tsur, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem who also deals with planning here, says the Israeli government is not trying to marginalize the Arab population. She says the decision to expand Ramat Shlomo was taken simply to accommodate the needs of the community there.

Ms. NAOMI TSUR (Deputy Mayor, Jerusalem): As the city of Jerusalem, we have to take responsibility for the entire population. We can't wait around for a final status agreement and leave people living in the street.

(Soundbite of pounding, banging)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Back in Ramat Shlomo, workers stack bricks at a building site. Palestinian Juse Abot(ph) is a laborer remodeling a public building in the Jewish community.

Mr. JUSE ABOT (Laborer): (Through translator) I feel frustrated because the whole world is watching us. They're going to eventually expand this place. Israel will do whatever they like.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All of this, he says, creates an impossible obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state. And now, he adds, the world knows it.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem.

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