Aycha Yassin Abu Taa is about to get Prime Minister Menachem Begin as a new neighbor, but she isn't exactly rolling out a welcome mat.
A nearly 80-year-old grandmother, Abu Taa lives literally in the shadow of the spanking new office building in the Sheik Jarrah area of East Jerusalem, where Begin intends to move himself and his staff of 250 to symbolize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, including the predominantly Arab sector captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.
From dawn to darkness for the last week, bulldozers have been rumbling through Abu Taa's front yard in the former Arab village, scraping a new parking lot for the prime minister's office. Workmen have been pouring concrete for a new security guardhouse for the imposing six-story office building that sits on land once owned by the Abu Taa family.
Last week, an Israeli bulldozer knocked down a stone wall surrounding Abu Taa's house and uprooted a fruit tree as the old Arab woman watched crying.
"I went up to him and said, 'Why are you doing this?'" Abu Taa recalled. She said the driver replied that not only would he destroy the trees, but the house as well.
Abu Taa said she exploded in rage and hit the man in the chest, shouting in Arabic that she would take his eyes out.
Now, Abu Taa is resigned to the inevitability of the Israeli government moving in a few yards from her house. She said, "If thousands like Begin come here, what does that have to do with us? It doesn't affect us. We want to live in freedom in our house."
But Abu Taa is worried about one thing. "If somebody throws a stone at Begin, we will be the ones to pay the price. The security officers will be all over this house in a minute," she said.
Abu Taa, who lives with her daughters in the pleasant, typically Arab stone house, said she is no stranger to being uprooted. She and her husband, Haj Yassin Abu Taa and their children were refugees from the Arab village of Lifta on the outskirts of West Jerusalem in 1948. They fled to land they owned in Romema, also in western Jerusalem, but eventually had to leave there also.
They ended up on property they owned in Jordanian-held East Jerusalem, where their son, Ibrahim, built the house in which the old woman lives. But in 1967 the Israelis came again, and the Abu Taa family once more faced the prospect of expropriation of their land.
Eighteen days after the Six-Day War, Israel annexed East Jerusalem and a wide swath of land all the way to the city limits of El Biera. A year later the government expropriated nine acres of the Abu Taa property.
The grandmother said her husband had an offer to sell part of the land to another Arab for a handsome profit, but refused, saying he wanted something to leave his sons when he died.
Three years ago, the old woman said, her husband went outside one day and saw Israeli contractors digging for the foundations of what then was planned to be a new building for the Housing Ministry.
"He came back inside and said, 'Our land is gone.' It wasn't long before he had a heart attack, and he died several days after that in a hospital," Abu Taa said.
Three months ago, she said, three Israeli officials -- two men and a woman -- visited her and asked her to give up her house. "I told them that the house is all I have left. I said that if they fill it with gold I won't give it up. I want to die in this house," Abu Taa said.
Abu Taa has six sons living in the United States, including Ibrahim, the legal owner of the house, who is an American citizen. He lives in Silver Spring and is the manager of a restaurant there, his mother said.
Hanging in the front porch of the Abu Taa house is a sign that the family says hung there after the 1967 war by a U.S. consular official, ostensibly protecting the house. It reads: U.s.a. property."
Even closer to the squat building designated as the new offices of the prime minister is a house owned by a cousin, Zena Issa Abu Taa, who lived there since 1959. One corner of the stone house is just a few yards from the front of the office building -- so close that a security fence put up by the Israelis has to zigzag around the Abu Taa house.
Abu Taa said that when workmen last week put up the eight-foot barbed-wire fence, they ruined her kitchen, which is separated from the house. The outside wall of the kitchen had a gaping, jagged crack that Abu Taa said was caused by a bulldozer.
Three years ago, Abu Taa said, a bedroom was similarly ruined when the initial excavations began. The room is now being used as a chicken coop.
Abu Taa said when she asked the workmen to move the fence a few feet from the kitchen, they told her to be quiet. When she argued, she said, she was taken to security police headquarters and questioned for three hours.
Asked how she feels about the living literally against the side of Begin's proposed offices, Abu Taa said, "If he doesn't disturb us and drive us out, we won't disturb him. What can we do? Where can we go."