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>JN April 24, 1997, Vol. 5, Number 73
A Tale of Two Hills
By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)
The freeze in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is rooted in
Israeli construction on a wooded hill in east Jerusalem, which
Palestinians claim as their own. Throughout the crisis, a few
Palestinians have maintained a sometimes lonely vigil at an
encampment on an adjacent hill, where they can watch the work
proceed and make their arguments to visiting Israelis,
Palestinians, and foreigners.
The protesters have put up some squeaky swings for visiting
children to play on, the sound of their playing mingling with the
bulldozers and pile drivers across the valley.
Nearby, in and around a motley collection of a half-dozen tents,
the few people who have been living at the site for nearly 40 days
sit in the shade and talk to visitors, always watched by Israeli
soldiers and accompanied by the sounds of digging and pounding.
The protest coordinator is Youssef Kassas.
"The purpose of the camp is to give a peaceful message to
the Israeli authority, to international bodies, that the peace
process is in real danger. We are not making a battle here. It is
a symbolic protesting camp and a peaceful method. And we hope by
this peaceful, simple method to save the peace process."
The protesters sit on a windswept hill outside the border Israel
drew for united Jerusalem after the 1967 war. On the next hill,
inside the city limits, bulldozers are cutting roadways through
the pine trees for what is supposed to become a neighborhood for
600 Jewish families called Har Homa. Palestinians call the hill
Jabal abu Gheneim and they say it is part of the Bethlehem district
of the West Bank.
Palestinian leaders have said the peace process can not go on as
long as the Israeli construction project does. That puts a lot
of importance on a little hill. But Kassas, the protest
coordinator, says the hill deserves that much importance.
"Yes, it's worth it, because if we know the result, of establishing
a settlement on abu Gheneim mountain. They will make a half of a
circle of building surrounding Jerusalem. Without Jerusalem there
is no peace."
Kassas and other moderate Palestinian leaders say without Jerusalem
the peace process they have promoted to the Palestinian people has
no credibility. He says if Palestinian leaders accept the Har Homa
construction, the Palestinian people will look for new leaders.
Therefore, Kassas and other protesters say they will maintain their
vigil until the bulldozers leave.
But Israel says that will be only when the construction is
finished. Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu, say they will never surrender any part of what Israeli
law defines as Jerusalem, not even a remote corner like Har Homa.
Israeli officials say the Palestinians should accept that, and
should focus on negotiating for the best terms they can get on
That policy makes this hillside protest camp seem like a futile
exercise, but Kassas points to a flattened mountaintop in the
distance, the ruins of a Roman castle built by King Herod, and
says he draws strength from it.
"There were Herodus who has a castle there. And those times,
during the Romans, we were weaponless. Now there is no Herodus.
You find Ali and Khalil (Palestinians) here. I am not worried."
Herod's castle is far away and has been in ruins for centuries.
Har Homa is just two hundred meters from the protest camp, and it
is only now beginning to take shape.
Israelis aided Peruvian hostage rescue
An American official and former Israeli commando expert say
Israeli anti-terror experts helped the Peruvian army plan their
dramatic hostage rescue at the Japanese embassy in Lima.
Israel Radio reports Wednesday that Larry Johnson, head of the
anti-terror division at the State Department, said Peru refused
assistance offered by all other western nations.
However, Johnson says Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori required
the rescue force to consist of Peruvian soldiers only. Retired
Israeli army Col. Menahem Digli, former commander of Israel's
top commando unit, tells Israel Radio "it's only natural that
whoever goes to do something like this without any experience on
their side does not want to fail."
Although he says he has no specifics on the Israelis involved: "It
is very reasonable they would want Israelis within the advisory
body, not just for the operation but also for the negotiations, the
types of equipment and the intelligence gathered.
Digli says the negotiations over the past few months were
successful in lowering the number of hostages, making it much
easier for the Peruvians to rescue a much smaller number than the
original number captured when the embassy was stormed four months
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