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The other side of Sharon's Gaza plan? While the world praises the withdrawal, Israel tightens its grip on other areas

While the world praises the withdrawal, Israel tightens its grip on other areas

JERUSALEM

many Palestinians, Israel's planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in three weeks is cause for great celebration. But with his family's home soon slated for demolition, Adnan Hushieh wonders if it's really time to start the cheering.

Mr. Hushieh lives with his wife and eight children in a three-room house hanging on the edge of a valley in the Shuafat refugee camp, a dusty, garbage-strewn slum in northern Jerusalem. It's a home the construction worker spent the better part of the past decade building with his own hands, and one that's at last nearing completion.

That moment may never come. Some time next month -- around the same time the Gaza settlers are being pulled from their homes -- Mr. Hushieh's home will be flattened to make room for what most people here call "the wall," a concrete security barrier, eight metres high in some parts, that punches and swerves through Jerusalem, redefining the boundaries and demographics of this ancient city.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ordered the segment of the barrier be rushed to a conclusion, and asked his ministries to complete their final preparations by Sept. 1.

Homes such as Mr. Hushieh's are to be knocked aside in the rush to wall in the city that Israelis and Palestinians claim as their capital.

This, in the eyes of many, is the other side of Mr. Sharon's much-lauded Gaza withdrawal plan. While the attention of the international community will be fixed on Jewish settlers being pulled out of their homes -- and as world leaders are praising Mr. Sharon for his bravery -- Israel will be continuing with business as usual in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, tightening its grip on territories that are far more important to most Israelis than tiny, barren Gaza.

"What is happening in Gaza is not good news for us," said Mr. Hushieh, who acknowledges he had no legal permit to build on the plot. "They will only take the settlers from Gaza and bring them here."

Official permission to build new structures in Jerusalem is almost impossible to obtain for most Palestinians. "They want the least number of Arabs in Jerusalem. They want to only hear Hebrew in the city, and for Arabs to be a minority."

The Israeli government's Minister for Jerusalem, Haim Ramon, acknowledged recently that the barrier's route was drawn up in a way that "makes Jerusalem more Jewish."

And this week, Jerusalem's city planning committee approved the construction of a new, 21-home Jewish district, plus a synagogue, deep in the heart of the Muslim Quarter of the historic Old City.

The new neighbourhood would be located just inside Herod's Gate, less than half a kilometre from some the holiest sites in Islam, the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa mosque. Yosef Alalu, a dovish member of the Jerusalem city council who voted against the plan, warned that if the development goes ahead, it risks provoking another intifada (uprising).

"Of course Sharon is behind all this," Mr. Alalu said yesterday as he marched with 20 Israeli peace activists through the Old City to protest against the development plan. "Sharon is sincere when he says Gaza is not for the Jews, but he's also sincere when he says Jerusalem is for the Jews. He's trying to play to the right wing."

In all, 55,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem will find themselves on the wrong side of the wall once it's completed, which will dramatically alter the city's ethnic mix.

For most of those left outside, it will mean having to go through Israeli military checkpoints to get to their schools, hospitals and jobs.

For others deemed undesirable, it could mean never entering the centre of Jerusalem again -- an idea many say will be impossible to accept.

Nasser Rhashan, a 28-year-old law graduate who lives in Shuafat and works as a labourer in the Israeli port city of Ashdod, predicted that the current peace between the two sides could not hold if Palestinians were cut off from their families, their jobs and some of the holiest sites in Islam. "The al-Aqsa mosque is like a piece of our body. Even if they try to prevent us, we will find a way to visit it. They have to understand that."

Israeli political analysts say the moves to promote the "Judaization" of Jerusalem suggest the Prime Minister is preparing to veer to the political right after the Gaza pullout in an effort to recapture some of his lost support base and to head off a likely challenge for the leadership of his Likud party from former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr. Sharon, they say, is betting he will have built up enough international goodwill after the Gaza withdrawal to push ahead with the controversial initiatives.

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