| Organization aiming to make
Jerusalem Jewish again not settling for status quo
Date: October 15,1998
Publication: The Jewish Advocate
By Uriel Heilman
Special to the Advocate
NEW YORK -- When an elderly Arab gentleman first approached
the Jerusalem municipality shortly after Israel's victory
in the Six-Day War claiming that he had a set of keys to
an old synagogue in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old
City, he was nearly laughed out of the city office. Israeli
authorities knew that nearly all of the Old City's Jewish
institutions and synagogues were destroyed in the decades
between the Arab riots in the 1920s and 1930s and the end
of Jordanian control of the city, in 1967.
When the Arab man persisted, a few reluctant Jews followed
him to an inconspicuous building in the heart of the Muslim
quarter. When the door was opened to reveal a synagogue
that was completely intact, the group was shocked. "They
couldn't believe it," recalls Israeli Mati Dan. "Everything
was there -- the beit midrash study hall, the holy ark,
the Torah scrolls and about 2,000 books -- everything!"
Since the synagogue's rediscovery and restoration -- the
structure dates back to 1886 -- it has become the world
headquarters of Ateret Cohanim, an organization whose declared
mission is to "renew and bolster the Jewish presence
in the heart of the Jerusalem." Dan, a native of Bnei
Brak, an Orthodox suburb of Tel Aviv, has been involved
with the organization for more than 20 years and currently
serves as its senior director.
In recent years, Ateret Cohanim's efforts have been a frequent
source of friction for the organization's continued purchase
of properties for Jews in predominantly Arab sections of
Jerusalem. Such actions have had a disruptive effect on
the peace process, resulting in occasional clashes between
Arab protestors and Israeli authorities and stalled peace
Ateret Cohanim also has a close relationship with American
millionaire irving Moskowitz, whose sponsorship of a controversial
property purchase two years ago brought relations between
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian
Authority chairman Yasser Arafat to a point of crisis.
Dan insists that any Arab violence that results from such
action is no fault of Ateret Cohanim. "If we don't
settle there, the [Arabs] won't make problems?" he
said in a recent interview. "What we need to achieve
is to strengthen the Jewish hold on the Old City.
"We need to enable Jews to walk in Jerusalem and feel
like it belongs to them, not like they're scared strangers."
He rejects any division of the Old City into ethnic or
religious quarters. "All these divisions are not real,"
he said. "It is a wrong picture. The Jewish quarter
is a result of violence that forced the Jews into a particular
place, but there is really Jewish property all over the
Dan continually refers to what he terms the so-called Muslim
quarter as the "kotel [the wall] quarter." "We
even buy property from Arabs that we really should not have
to pay for," he said. "It belongs to us. They
took it from us. But the people of Israel pay."
According to Dan, those who regard Ateret Cohanim as a
rightwing extremist organization have it all wrong. "Today,
if you choose to live in the Old City, you have to live
with Arabs, and that means you're more of a dove than Peace
Now," he said. "They want separation. We are in
favor of normalcy, co-existence and Jerusalem."
Dan cited a number of cooperative efforts that his organization
has recently begun in an effort to bring the interests of
Jewish and Arab residents of the Old City together. Most
relate to neighborhood upkeep and general cleanliness. "Our
problems are not with Arab residents, but with terror organizations,"
Author not available, Organization aiming to make Jerusalem
Jewish again not settling for. , Jewish Advocate, The, 10-15-1998,