Through an error in editing, incorrect figures were inserted into an article published in yesterday's editions about the removal of Arabs from the Old City of Jerusalem. The article should have said that Jerusalem's total population is 364,000, of which all but 100,000 are Jews, and that only about 2,000 of the 22,000 people living in the Old City are Jews, with most of the rest being Arabs.
In the cold of a Jerusalem winter's afternoon recently, Mohammed Bourkan stood in the alley outside his stone house in the walled city of Jerusalem with his arms wrapped about him trying to keep warm. Around him were a dozen relatives, the women in black with the pinched and worried faces of the dispossessed and the children looking bewildered and cold.
Three Israeli policemen were in the street, one of them with a walkie-talkie blaring, and the door to the Bourkan house was locked and barred. "We don't want any trouble," one of the policeman said when asked why he was there.
Hours earlier the police had come with an eviction notice and removed the family and all their possessions despite Bourkan's plea for a few additional hours to pack the family's clothes, food and portable possessions.
The Bourkan family are but a few among approximately 6,500 Arabs who have been evicted from their homes since 1968 to make room for Jews in the newly restored Jewish quarter of the old city.
The Bourkan house, which has been Arab-owned for centuries, will either be torn down or more likely modernized inside and offered for sale to Jews.
Most of the Arabs who have been asked to leave the quarter have been squatters who had moved there only since 1948 and most were willing to accept the government's compensation either willingly or because of their fear of the authorities. Only a few such as the Bourkans have stubbornly resisted, choosing instead to fight the eviction notices for years. There are approximately 25 Arab families left in the new expanded Jewish quarter and, like the Bourkans, most of them have refused to accept any compensation from the goverment.
"When I entered this house I was one year old," Bourkan, 31, said in an interview. "I was married in this house and here is where my children were born. All my memories are here. I don't want to move."
The government-owned Israel Company for Restoring and Rebuilding the Jewish Quarter says that Bourkan's eviction, as well as the others, was not only legal but necessary. "Every government that wants to plan its towns must expropriate property," explained a senior official who asked not to be quoted by name. "Otherwise you could not have any town planning."
"There are always private interests in opposition, but this is not a problem unique to Israel," the official said. "It has been true in Boston, in Pittsburgh, in Stockholm, everywhere."
The problem of dispossessing the poor in depressed neighborhoods to make way for the middle class is indeed not a problem unique to Israel. But the restoration company's admitted policy is to drive Arabs out to keep the new, restored Jewish quarter exclusively Jewish, which is never was in the past. Because of this and because this is Jerusalem, where every stone carries the lichen of political, emotional and religious significance, the issue has pricked the conscience of many liberal Israelis.
"What they are doing is taking out the Arabs and putting in Jews," says Prof. Uzi Ornan of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, one of the small band of Jews actively opposing the expropriations. "I cannot call it in the public interest or in the spirit of the state of Israel to displace people against their will because of their religion."
The restoration company argues, with truth, that Jews have also been evicted from this and other projects to make way for urban renewal. But in the case of the new Jewish quarter, Jews are allowed to buy apartments in the restored buildings while Arabs apparently are not.
Bourkan, with the help of his Israeli friends tried to test the company last year by applying for one of the new apartments in the Jewish quarter that from time to time are offered for sale by lottery.
After paying his deposit he was told that he had failed in the draw and that someone else had won the right to buy that apartment. Later, however, the same apartment appeared on the available lists - proviag to Bourkan and the activists that Bourkan had been discriminated against because he is an Arab.
Since the Middle Ages the old Jewish quarter, hard by the Wailing Wall, has been a center of Jewish life and scholarship. In Turkish times, before World War I, there may have been as many as 25,000 Jews living in the quarters, although most were tenants of Moslem landlords under the complicated land-ownership arrangement in force at the time.
By 1947, the last year of the British mandate in Palestine, the number of Jews in the quarter had dwindled to about 2,000 because many had moved into the new Jewish neighborhoods outside the city wall.
In 1948, after the British had left, a couple of hundred Jews defended the Jewish quarter against the Jordanian Arab Legion in a bitter siege that has a place in Israeli legend similar to the siege of the Alamo. When the defenders finally surrendered, they were driven out and, for the first time since the crusaders massacred and banished the Jews from Jerusalem in the 11th Century, Jewish life in the old city came to an end.
The quarter was badly damaged during the siege, but even after the fighting ended, as the Arab commander Abdullah Tell wrote in his memoirs, "The operations of calculated destruction were set in motion." Synagogues, some of them 500 years old, were destroyed and desecrated. The area became a slum where Arab squatters lived in the ruins and in the 1960s the Jordanian government hired the New York consulting firm of Brown and Assoc. to draw up a plan for remaking the quarter.
The Six-Day War of June 1967 interrupted this plan and in 1958 the new masters of the old city, the Israelis, expropriated about 30 acres under a "public purpose" law dating from the British mandate.
The rationale for the requisition as reported in the Jerusalem Post at the time, was to "rebuild the whole area (of the Jewish quarter), repopulate it with Jews and create something worthy of the historical, national and religious meaning which the Jewish quarter has had and for which there is no counterpart in Israel or the whole world" a high court judge was quoted as saying.
Soon after the Six-Day War, Israel annexed the old city of Jerusalem outright and therefore does not feel itself bound by the Geneva agreement covering the administration of occupied territories.
Since Israel annexed the old city and the Arab East Jerusalem, the population of Jerusalem has grown to 360,000, more than two-thirds of them Arabs. But in the old city, only several thousand Arabs remain, most of them in the Moslem quarter.
The reconstruction project itself is a combination of restored Arab houses and modern stone-faced buildings with open squares that have been designed not to intrude on the skyline or clash with the old city's ancient character. But the new Jewish quarter is almost twice the size of the Jewish quarter of the British mandate period and conforms more to the quarter as it existed 75 years ago.
Reconstruction has bulldozed hundreds of old Arab houses that were never Jewish-owned, as far as anyone can determine. The Bourkan family bought their house in 1946 from an Arab family that had owned it for more than a hundred years.
For most of the evicted Arabs, including the Bourkans, eviction means leaving the old walled city for the suburbs because the Moslem quarter is already overcrowded. For Moslems, living in the shawdow of the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two of the holiest places in Islam, has a meaning as important to them as living near the western wall of Solomon's Temple, known as the Wailing Wall, has for the Jews.
The company defends its Jews-only policy by saying that Jerusalem has always been divided into separate quarters because people have preferred it that way for a thousand years. While some Arabs are being forced to leave the new Jewish quarter they are being fully compensated, according to company officials.
"Our customs are very different," said a senior official in the restoration company who asked not to be quoted by name. "For example, if a woman walks alone at night in a Moslem neighborhood she is considered to be a prostitute."
"The Jewish quarter is intended for Jews only," a company official was quoted as saying in the Hebrew-language newspaper Haaretz. "The Arabs have been offered fair terms and if they refuse that's their problem. Ask any Jewish occupant of the quarter. It's no great pleasure to live with Arabs."
Mohammed Bourkan, on the other hand, says that his relationships with his Jewish neighbors have been cordial. Like many Jerusalem Arabs he is fluent in Hebrew. He does not see why he cannot live with the Jews.
Prof. Ornan, in an interview, said: "We should treat everyone with equal civil rights. People should be able to choose where they live, yes. But we should not force a man to move from the Jewish quarter just because he is not a Jew."
Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem's energetic mayor, has on several occasions tried to intercede on behalf of Arabs whom the restoration company has sought to evict.
"The mayor doesn't think it a disaster if Arabs want to live in the Jewish quarter," said one of his aides, Aya Eshet. When Bourkan received an eviction notice to leave by Jan. 3, the mayor used his influence to get a 10-day stay, hoping to reach a compromise with the company.
The mayor's power over the doings of the restoration company is mainly persuasive, however, and the company took advantage of the mayor's absence on a trip abroad to move against Bourkan even before the 10-day stay had expired.
There is no question but that the company has acted within its legal rights, as Bourkan's appeal had already been turned down by the Israeli court.
According to Prof. Ornan, however, the real issues are the restoration company's misuse of its powers of eminent domain and the court's refusal to judge each case on its merits.
"Discrimination is a result of this unlimited power," Ornan said in an interview. "Without this power I am sure we could build a community where Jews and Arabs could live together in the old city."
Mohammed Bourkan now has taken his family to live in a new house he has built in another part of the city - outside the walls and far away from the neighborhood where he grew up.