Behind the Headlines: Ateret Cohanim Say Their Struggle Aimed at Keeping Jerusalem Unified

Two weeks ago, Chaim and Tali Daum moved into their new home in the Moslem Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City and became part of a controversy that is shaking the country.

In the eyes of many Israelis, the Daums’ decision to live in the Moslem Quarter is a provocative act that will lead to further tensions between Arabs and Jews.

In the view of many others, Jews have a moral and legal right to live anywhere in the unified capital, including all of the Old City.

In reality, the issue goes far beyond the 48 families who have taken up residence in the Moslem Quarter. The issue is Jewish settlement activity as a whole, and its ramifications for Jerusalem and the peace process.

“A Jewish presence in the Moslem Quarter will strengthen the country’s claim to Jerusalem, if and when the city’s status comes up in peace negotiations,” argues Yossi Baumol, executive director of the Ateret Cohanim yeshiva.

The yeshiva, which is responsible for many of the real estate purchases in the Moslem Quarter, received funds from the previous government to buy, renovate and protect Jewish residences in the quarter.

The Rabin government has stopped the funding and has called into question the actions of former Housing Minister Ariel Sharon.

Despite the present government’s attempts to curtail Jewish settlement in parts of what was formerly East Jerusalem, Baumol says he is deeply committed to bringing Jews back to the Moslem Quarter.

“Since the 1800s, Jews have lived in the quarter and fled only after the riots of the 1920s and 1930s made it impossible for them to stay,” he says.

PURCHASES NEVER DONE BY FORCE

Baumol defends the yeshiva’s use of two buildings originally seized by the army for security purposes. According to Israeli law, any structure seized for security reasons must remain in the hands of the military.

“The government approved our request to use the buildings back in 1983,” he claims. “We waited until 1991 and then received permission from the police department as well. We also bought the rights to at least one of the two buildings from the Arab owners.”

The matter is to be decided in court.

As for the yeshiva’s practice of approaching Arab homeowners to buy rights to their property, Baumol says, “The procedure is completely legal and never done with force. In many cases, the building had originally belonged to a Jewish family, yeshiva or synagogue. It isn’t an issue of settlement, but of return.”

To prove the point, Ateret Cohanim staffer Tehilah Rapps points to a 1921 Jerusalem phone list that details the addresses of Jewish residents. According to the list, 1,355 Jews lived on Rehov Hebron, a street in the Moslem Quarter.

On an informal tour of Jewish sites in the Moslem Quarter, Rapps stops to talk to Arab shop owners. Unlike many of her colleagues, she is conversant in Arabic and readily asks how business is going and inquires whether a general strike is in effect that day.

On a brief visit to one of the yeshiva’s Arab neighbors, she politely declines a cup of tea and inquires about the family’s children.

But such cordial relations are the exception rather than the rule.

Every time Tali Daum needs to run out for a pint of milk, she is accompanied by an armed guard. There is little contact between Arab and Jewish neighbors, due in part to mutual distrust, and also because neither side wishes to learn the other’s language. The result: an atmosphere of tension.

That is exactly the kind of atmosphere Mayor Teddy Kollek has tried to prevent. While Kollek acknowledges that all Jerusalem residents may live where they wish, he questions “the wisdom of Jews settling in populated Arab areas.”

The mayor, who has tried to thwart every attempt by Jews to cross over into Arab neighborhoods, says that “the entry of Jews into settled Arab areas does not contribute to the peace and calm of the city.”

He draws a distinction between sections like the Moslem Quarter and “new neighborhoods created in a ring around Jerusalem within its borders as redrawn in June 1967.”

“At least at this stage in history,” he says, “the interest of tranquility is best served by having various groups live in homogeneous neighborhoods in a heterogeneous city.”

‘WANT JEWS TO WALK AROUND WITHOUT FEAR’

The Daum family does not agree. Sitting in their small apartment, with an armed guard outside the door, they explain what brought them to the Moslem Quarter.

“My wife’s family has lived in the Old City for three generations,” says Chaim. “Her grandfather spent a year in a Jordanian prison after the Jordanians took over. Her mother lived through the riots. They fled to Katamon (in West Jerusalem), but they always dreamed of returning.”

Following the Six-Day War, Tali Daum’s family moved to the Jewish Quarter — a neighborhood with lots of potential residents but a scarcity of apartments.

But it was not the housing shortage in the Jewish Quarter that motivated the Daums to live in the Moslem section. “We waited two years for this apartment, and we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says Chaim.

“This was once a Jewish building,” he adds, “a yeshiva dating back to the 1850s. There were Jewish homes on this street.”

The Daums say they are unafraid, despite the fact that someone threw a bottle into the apartment and someone else burned the Israeli flag that was hanging in their courtyard.

“We say hello, but we don’t share the same language,” Chaim says.

“Living here is not a political action,” he claims, “but we want this city to be the capital of Israel. We want Jews to walk around without fear, to live in any part of Jerusalem they wish to.”

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