May 18, 2000
There is a grimy Arabic sign high on the wall of the imposing new building rising on a rocky, ragged hillside in the West Bank village of Abu Dis. Through the rubble and raw cement, a couple of laborers are languidly plastering a concrete beam, but no one is hurrying to fill the dusty, completed shell.The main, two-story building is a vast chamber; the adjacent seven stories an office block. In the process of rising is a parliament that is not a parliament for a capital that is not a capital in a state that is not a state. Not yet, anyway.
Abu Dis, on the eastern fringe of Jerusalem, is currently under Palestinian civil administration but Israeli security supervision (though the only police in sight were directing traffic at the entrance to the village). Part of it falls within the negligent jurisdiction of the Israeli Jerusalem municipality, which acquired it when the victors expanded the city limits after the 1967 Six-Day War. Although they are not Israeli citizens, about 20 percent of its 14,000 Arab inhabitants hold Israeli Jerusalem identity cards, which makes it easier for them to work or shop across the border that is not a border.The new building's assembly hall is in "Palestine," but the office block is in "Israeli" Jerusalem. This may yet prove more than a bureaucratic curiosity. Abu Dis is one of three neighboring Arab villages Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is planning to deliver to full Palestinian self-rule as a "down payment" towards a Palestinian state.
So, the spin goes, Palestine would have its capital in Al Quds, as Arafat promises his peopledaily, and Israel would retain Jerusalem as the "eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish people." Bingo! Except that, as Ali Johar, an elderly gent sunning himself outside an auto accessories shop, insists, "Jerusalem is Jerusalem, Abu Dis is Abu Dis."Othman Muhamad Qurei, the 72-year-old mukhtar (village headman), concurs. "We are proud," he says, "that we are going to have a parliament here, but we are not proud that they say this is Jerusalem." The mukhtar, who happens to be an uncle of Abu Ala, the speaker of the Palestinian legislative council, is a study in white.White hair, trim white beard, white eyebrows, persil-white head scarf, ankle-length white shirt. Abu Dis is a suburban village, he explains. Jerusalem is where you go if you want to buy shoes.
So do they want to be under full Palestinian rule? In the "Jerusal" Internet cafe, Samer Saman, an electronics student, says: "I am Palestinian, and I want my government to be Palestinian. At the moment we have no proper government here. It has to be better. I hope so." Yet not everyone in Abu Dis shares even such qualified enthusiasm. "Many people don't want the Palestinian Authority," says Nasser Arar, a 30-year-old laborer who works on Israeli construction sites. "It's going to be difficult. We are afraid we'll lose our ID cards, along with the health and national insurance benefits that go with them. The PA gives us nothing."Yousef Idais, a fruit and vegetable vendor, is worried about the abuses for which the Palestinian security services have become notorious. Idais, 28, moved to Abu Dis from Hebron. "They arrested five of my brothersand cousins there," he says. "They said they'd made passes at girls in the street. The police shaved their heads and beat them, then threw them out in the street." "The problem with Abu Dis," advises Rami Mahmoud, a savvy 16-year-old schoolboy, "is that people are afraid of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Don't believe a word anyone says."