"New" synagogue opens old wounds in Jerusalem

Fri Nov 7, 2008 9:34am EST
 
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By Alastair Macdonald

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A synagogue newly reopened in Jerusalem's Old City has worried Arab neighbors and Palestinian leaders who accuse Israel of using its political power to push them out and shift the city's religious balance toward the Jews.

Israelis say the work in the Muslim Quarter merely restored a building wrecked during 19 years of Arab control before Israel captured the Old City in 1967. But Palestinians complain they live under an unequal rule, by which homes and mosques in areas taken by Israel in the war of 1948 remain out of Arabs' reach.

Sixty years on, Jerusalem, where a new mayor will be elected next week, still lies at the heart of stalled efforts to broker a peace settlement. Nowhere are conflicts over land as up-close and personal as in the narrow lanes inside its ancient walls.

And nowhere do emotions run higher than on the seam of the Muslim and Jewish Quarters, where heavily armed Israeli police eye jostling crowds streaming to al-Aqsa mosque or the Western Wall, a remnant of the Jewish Temple destroyed 2,000 years ago.

"They want to push us out," said Alaa Zorba, a Muslim who runs a nearby grocery with his father, as he pointed from his window home to the rebuilt synagogue just across the alley.

"But we won't kneel," added Zorba. "We'd rather die."

He said he had been threatened by some Jews in the area and warned by Israeli police not to air his grievances in the media.

Just metres (yards) away, inside Ohel Yitzhak or Isaac's Tent which reopened last month, worshippers have a view through high, arched windows of Zorba's stone house -- and of that of a relative who believes a demolition order served on his home is part of a Jewish plan to take more land for the synagogue.   Continued...

 
<p>An Israeli security guard walks on the rooftop of a synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem October 15, 2008. The Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, and to Jews as Temple Mount, is seen in the background. A synagogue newly reopened in Jerusalem's Old City has worried Arab neighbours and Palestinian leaders who accuse Israel of using its political power to push them out and shift the city's religious balance toward the Jews. REUTERS/Mahfouz Abu Turk</p>