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Mr. Obama: Yes, You Can!

By       Message Uri Avnery     Permalink
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First, an honest disclosure: I loved the Shepherd hotel very much.

In the first years after the Six-Day War, I was a frequent guest there. My work in the Knesset demanded that I stay in Jerusalem at least two nights every week, and after the war I switched from the hotels of West Jerusalem to those in the Eastern part of the city. My favorite was the Shepherd. I felt at home there.

The charm of the place lay in its special atmosphere. It is located in the middle of that ancient Arab town which itself aroused my intense curiosity. Its rooms have high ceilings and old furniture, and it was run by remarkable people - two elderly Arab ladies who were educated in Beirut and steeped in Palestinian-Lebanese culture.

The area surrounding the hotel is the neighborhood of the al-Husseini clan. The holdings of this vast extended family, with more than 5000 members, comprise the greater part of the Sheikh Jarrah quarter, which also includes the legendary Orient House.

The al-Husseini family is one of the handful of aristocratic Jerusalemite families, and perhaps the most respected one (its members certainly think so). For centuries the family has filled at least one of the three most important positions in the town: those of Grand Mufti, mayor and the notable in charge of the Islamic shrines. Shepherd was built by Hajj Amin al-Husseini, the mufti who led the Arab Rebellion in the 1930s and became the Arab the Hebrew community most loved to hate.

I spent hours in conversation with the two ladies, learnt a lot from them and grew very attached to the place. It was a sad day for me when it was closed.

I don't know how this property fell into the hands of the American millionaire, the Bingo king whose declared intention is to set up Jewish settlements all over the Arab town. Now he wants to build a housing project in the grounds of the Shepherd.

But that's enough of him. My business is with Binyamin Netanyahu.

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Netanyahu's aim is to Judaize Jerusalem. This week he boasted that in his last term in office, ten years ago, he had set up the fortified Jewish neighborhood of Har Homa.

To Har Homa whose real name is Jebel Abu Ghneim I also have a sentimental attachment. I spent many days and nights in the struggle to prevent the creation of the monstrous housing project that looms there now.

The leader in this struggle was another Husseini the unforgettable Feisal. I held him in high esteem. I don't hesitate to say that I loved him. He was a nobleman in the real sense of the word: a scion of nobility but modest in his manners, generous and approachable, a man of peace but fearless in his confrontations with the occupation troops, a real Palestinian patriot, moderate in his opinions, wise and courageous. He was the son of Abd-al-Kader al-Husseini, the leader of the Arab fighters in the Jerusalem district in the 1948 war, who was killed in the battle for the "Castel" near the city. I had no part in that battle, but I passed by a few hours later in a relief convoy for the besieged Jewish part of Jerusalem. Like most of my comrades, I respected him as an honorable enemy.

The site of Har Homa, for those who have already forgotten, used to be a unique place of beauty between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, a rounded hill covered with a dense wood. The destroyers of Jerusalem that brutal coalition of real estate sharks, fanatical Zionists, American millionaires and religious mystics had decided to eliminate that last spot of beauty in order to build a dense, fortified and particularly ugly Jewish settlement. Under the leadership of Feisal and Ta'amri, the former husband of a Jordanian princess, a tent camp was set up. When the bulldozers started to cut down the trees and level the top of the hill, we held dozens of demonstrations and vigils. In one of them I suffered a hemorrhage and would have ended my life there and then, if a Palestinian ambulance had not succeeded in reaching me in that road-less stone desert and got me to the hospital in time. So I have a sentimental attachment to the place.

The shepherd provocation is a part of the tireless effort to "Judaize" Jerusalem. In simple words: to carry out ethnic cleansing. This campaign has been going on for 42 years already, from the first day of the occupation of East Jerusalem, but the timing of this particular operation results from tactical considerations.

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Netanyahu is facing heavy American pressure to freeze the settlements in the West Bank. He is quite unable to do so, as long as he remains at the head of the coalition he himself chose, which consists of Rightists, religious zealots, settlers and outright fascists. He has offered several "compromises", all based on various fraudulent ploys, but the Americans have learnt the lessons of the past and did not fall into any of his traps.

His Siamese twin, Ehud Barak, is busy leaking to the media "news" about a grandiose operation: at any moment, with one stroke, like Alexander and the Gordian knot, the dozens of settlement "outposts" that have been set up since 2001 with secret government support will be uprooted. But except for the media people themselves, hardly anyone believes that this will really happen. Certainly not the settlers, judging by their knowing smiles.

So what to do in order to avoid having to dismantle the outposts? Netanyahu, the King of Spin, has a solution: a new provocation to draw attention away from the last one. The Shepherd hotel is now diverting the world's attention away from the hills of "Judea and Samaria". When you have a toothache, you forget about your bellyache.

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