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East Jerusalem Becomes Focus Of The Conflict, And The Mood Is Bleak

Israeli police check Palestinian IDs at a checkpoint in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem on Sunday. Palestinian assailants have carried out a series of stabbings and the Israelis have ramped up security measures in the city. Eight Israelis and more than 30 Palestinians have been killed in recent violence.
Oded Balilty

Palestinians sit in a line of idling cars that stretches downhill, waiting to be allowed out of their East Jerusalem neighborhood via a road partially sealed off by Israeli police.

Around the corner, Palestinian driver Waleed Mattar has stopped the school bus at a row of new, sharp-edged concrete cubes blocking his usual route. The kids now have a long walk home.

This is a neighborhood in East Jerusalem called Jabel Mukaber, with a population of more than 20,000 and a median age of just 18.

Israel has stepped up its already tight security, and shop owner Adel Aweisat says new measures, including a 20-foot-high barrier between this place and a nearby Jewish neighborhood, are ratcheting up pressure here.

Israel's security Cabinet said it erected blocks and barriers because of safety concerns. In a recent meeting, the Cabinet said some Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem are "centers of friction and incitement."

In the Israeli-Palestinian fighting that dates back decades, East Jerusalem has rarely been the center of the violence. Yet eight Israelis have been killed in attacks this month, and Israeli authorities say several perpetrators were young Palestinians from East Jerusalem armed with knives. More than 40 Palestinians have been killed. Some were killed in clashes with Israel's security forces, while others were attackers or would-be attackers, police say.

Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war and claims the entire city as its capital. The Palestinians, in turn, are demanding the eastern part of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

In most of Israel and the West Bank, Jews and Arabs live largely segregated lives. There is still a fair degree of mixing in Jerusalem, but the recent violence is keeping the two sides apart.

Palestinian Frustrations

We have to leave our car at the concrete blocks so we hitch a ride with Ahmed Aweisat. He's 21 and studying to be a dentist. Plenty of Palestinians in Jerusalem have qualifications, and some have decent jobs. But still, he says, being a Palestinian in Jerusalem is hard.

He points out a wall cutting off another Arab area, a checkpoint, a watchtower and a road only Israeli security forces are allowed to drive along. He doesn't endorse attacks on Israelis, but says they stem from frustrations all Palestinians feel.

When we visit another branch of the Aweisat family, they are receiving condolences.

Two of their boys recently were shot dead by police. Baha was 23, and Moataz was 16. Police say Baha was involved in a fatal attack against Jewish Israeli civilians on a bus and that Moataz tried to stab an Israeli police officer on another occasion. The family claims the younger boy would never have done that, though they don't deny the charge against his older cousin.

When I speak with Baha's father, Mohammad, he tells me he himself was convicted in 1975 of a bombing that killed 15 civilians.

He expresses no regret for his actions or for those of his son, but he says he's surprised nothing's changed in 40 years — he had hoped his children would have a different life.

Young Palestinians Complain About Elders

Meanwhile, many Palestinian youths say their elders have failed them. In a café near the Hebrew University, I meet Budour Hassan, a Palestinian who is a master's student and a blogger.

"They are totally disillusioned," she says of the young Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticized Palestinian leaders, saying they are inciting violence. However, Hassan says young people aren't listening to Palestinian politicians.

"They are not waiting for anyone because they know that no one's coming. They are not waiting for Arab leaders; they are not waiting for Palestinian leaders," she says.

She sees those Arab and Palestinian leaders as failures. Some tried diplomacy, others tried violence, but she says none improved the lives of Palestinians. Hassan doesn't condone the recent attacks but says many young people here no longer see any peaceful, or political, way forward.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alice Fordham is an NPR International Correspondent based in Beirut, Lebanon.
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