Page last updated at 10:13 GMT, Monday, 19 November 2007

Jerusalem Diary: Monday 19 November

By Tim Franks
BBC News, Jerusalem


My car smelt wonderful all Tuesday afternoon. It was filled with the aroma of freshly ground Arabic coffee: a fat mound of roasted beans, a good slug of cardamom pods, and a thin topping of more beans, pulverised into a smooth powder, and poured into four paper bags.

Grocer Hassam Ekermawi
The barrier has shattered business at Hassan Ekermawi's shop

The purveyor of fine Arabic coffee was Hassan Ekermawi. His grocery shop in Abu Dis is easy to find. From the Old City of Jerusalem, you wind for a couple of kilometres along the old road to Jericho until you hit the wall.

It is one of the easier landmarks to navigate by, an eight-metre high barrier, first built by the Israeli government in 2002, and heightened in 2004, in the effort, Israel argues, to contain Palestinian suicide bomb attacks.

Hassan's shop is a few metres from the barrier. "Before its construction 15,000 people passed by my shop, in the mornings and the evenings, going to and from work in Jerusalem," Hassan says. "Now, it's 10." Maybe the figures are exaggerated. But business has, clearly, been hammered.

Hassan is a 52-year old father of two. His father opened the shop in 1963. I asked Hassan if he'd thought about closing his shop and opening elsewhere.

"Where could I go?" he replied. "My family has already had to move once."

That was back in 1948. In the war that led to the establishment of the State of Israel, some Jews and many Arabs were made refugees. And in hearing the story of Hassan's family, I find out that we have a link beyond my liking for his coffee.

His surname - Ekermawi - comes from the village where the original family home was located: the village of Ein Kerem, to the west of Jerusalem. The Ekermawis lived behind the mosque. The house where my family and I now live in Ein Kerem is just up the road.


If you peer down the length of the barrier outside Hassan Ekermawi's shop, you can see the top of the grand, windowless building that was erected last decade as the Palestinians' future parliament in East Jerusalem, the putative capital of their putative state.

Israel's West Bank barrier in front of a building in Abu Dis intended as a future Palestinian parliament
Behind the barrier: A parliament building that has never been used

With the approach of the Annapolis conference - or meeting, as diplomats would rather we call it, to underline the current modesty of the ambition - there's talk, again, among Palestinians and Israelis of the future of Jerusalem.

Twice, last week, right-wing members of the Knesset visited the same part of East Jerusalem, regarded by the rest of the world as occupied territory.

MKs held gatherings at the City of David, a rich and extensive archaeological site just outside the Old City, believed by many to be the original location for the capital of the united tribes of Israel, 3,000 years ago.

Uri Ariel, a National Union MK, told me that he was filled with joy, contemplating the scientifically proven presence of Jews, going back thousands of years as he tramped around the dig in his sandals.

Jon Seligman, one of the archaeologists, agreed that what was being uncovered was exciting: he described the finds as "the most important in a decade".

Israeli MKs, led by Uri Ariel, walk through archaeological dig in East Jerusalem
Archaeology and politics: MKs make themselves felt in East Jerusalem
Up the hill, and through Dung Gate in the Old City walls, we were allowed to clamber around another excavation, this facing the Western Wall and the Aqsa Mosque.

Around us, men and women in hard hats chipped and brushed away at centuries of accreted dirt. They were revealing Jerusalem's main road 19 centuries ago, flanked by shops.

"This is not a Jewish site, it's part of the history of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is a city of contrasts, different peoples, different cultures," Mr Seligman said. Their finds reflected pagan, Christian, Jewish and Muslim culture.

"We're excavating to see what the archaeology shows us," he added.

An Israeli friend smiled ruefully, when he heard that. "Here," he said, "archaeology is politics."

Read previous diaries by Tim Franks:

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