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>Israel Faxx
>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 other issues.

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 ago.

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