Page last updated at 08:36 GMT, Thursday, 24 July 2008 09:36 UK

Palestinian workers fear backlash

By Heather Sharp
BBC News, Jerusalem

Anas al-Koraen, digger driver
Anas al-Koraen fears a clampdown will make it harder to get work

The recent digger attack in a Jerusalem street, the second such incident in three weeks, has left Palestinians who work in the construction industry in the city tense and fearing a backlash.

Anas al-Koraen, like Tuesday's attacker, is a Palestinian resident of East Jerusalem, and spends his days driving an earth mover on one of the city's many building sites.

"When I saw the television footage, and that the digging machine was just like my machine - then I was really worried," he says.

A civilian and a policeman shot the digger's driver dead just a few minutes after he began to ram his vehicle into cars and a bus. Mr Koraen now fears any slight altercation could spiral out of control.

"I feel scared - because any crazy person could hit me on purpose and then I could get shot," he says.

Threat from within?

The incidents, together with a shooting at a Jerusalem seminary earlier this year, have focused Israeli attention on the approximately quarter of a million Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem.

Most are not Israeli citizens, but have the right to move and work across Israel.

We are worried now that there will be new laws and conditions to hire us that will make it impossible to get a job.
Anas al-Koraen
Digger driver

Some work in white-collar professions, but large numbers end up in low-paid, manual jobs, including the construction industry.

While suicide attacks on the city by bombers from the West Bank have been greatly reduced in the last few years, the three recent attacks have sparked Israeli concerns that workers from East Jerusalem pose a new threat from within.

In both attacks using constriction vehicles, the motives of the attacker remain a mystery - local press reports suggested that the attackers had previous involvement with crime and drugs, and no links to militant groups have emerged.

Mr Koraen and his colleagues say they were surprised to see police carrying out checks at the site when they arrived for work on Wednesday morning. He fears a clampdown:

"We are worried now that there will be new laws and conditions to hire us that will make it impossible to get a job."

The workers, who are helping build a new urban rail system for the city, say they already face widespread discrimination and have few other options.

"No-one will do this kind of work apart from us. We are the desperate people," says Amir Abdul Magid Musalem, 32, another worker at the site.

Revenge attacks

About two-thirds of Israeli-Arab (Israeli citizens of Palestinian origin) - and Palestinian construction workers are university educated, he says, but cannot find other jobs.

Ahmad Josef Sihan, builder
Ahmad Josef Shihan says he can barely feed his family on his wage

His colleague, Ahmad Josef Sirhan, 42, a father of three, says he commutes three hours from Galilee and takes only 12 hours off between his 24-hour shifts.

He earns 3,000 to 3,500 Israeli shekels ($861 - $1004) a month. "I can barely pay the water and electricity, never mind my cellphone. I can hardly bring home bread and water for my children," he says.

The workers also fear revenge attacks. They say stones were thrown at them as they worked near a right-wing neighbourhood shortly after the first attack, on 2 July, in which the driver of a bulldozer was shot dead after killing three people.

And the evening of Tuesday's incident, Israeli media reported that two residents of East Jerusalem were beaten up in the Makor Baruch neighbourhood - known for its eclectic mix of Jewish religious schools and hardware shops often frequented by construction workers picking up supplies.

'Squeezed out'

Many of the workers' concerns are shared on the streets of East Jerusalem.

Israel occupied the eastern part of the city in the 1967 war, but Palestinians want the area as the capital of a future state.

6 March: Eight students killed in shooting attack at a seminary in Jerusalem. Attacker shot dead.
2 July: Bulldozer driver rams into a bus and several cars, killing three people. Attacker shot dead.
22 July: Mechanical digger rams into a bus and several cars. At least 10 people injured, one seriously. Attacker shot dead.

However, the Palestinians living there have seen their links with the West Bank dwindle as Israel has built an enveloping arch of settlements and more recently the West Bank barrier between the city and the West Bank.

They also speak of a growing sense of being "squeezed out".

"They don't want us here. That's why they are increasing the pressure on us," says a shopkeeper who gives his name only as Abu Ahmad.

He works near Sur Bahir, the home neighbourhood of the driver in the 2 July bulldozer attack.

"We have seen an increase in checkpoints. You have to wait, you are late to work. You end up paying more on petrol.

"We feel it in everything. There is not enough education, not enough medical services, not getting permits to build.

"Almost every day they demolish houses here for not having proper permits."


The bulldozer overturned one car and crushed another

Officials say the same law on building permits applies in East Jerusalem as elsewhere - and point out that Palestinians there have a right to vote and stand in municipal elections if they want to improve services in the area.

But campaign groups say the laws and regulations are not applied with the same rigour in Jewish and Palestinian areas.

Israel says the checkpoints are a necessity for security.

But Abu Ahmad says the Israelis are using the wrong approach. "They're just creating more pressure and frustration," he says.

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