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2 Families, Jewish and Arab, Sharing a Troubled Lot

Mideast: 'You deserve this!' rock-throwers yell at fellow Israelis who live next door to Palestinians.

October 11, 2000|MARJORIE MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

JERUSALEM — In normal times, it is rare for Arabs and Jews to live together as neighbors in the disputed city of Jerusalem. After nearly two weeks of bloody riots, it has become downright dangerous.

That is what the Palestinian Mashni family and the Israeli Atzmons discovered when an angry mob lay siege to their adjoining houses in an Arab neighborhood of East Jerusalem at the end of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Victoria Atzmon, 72, was washing dishes Monday after a meal to break the fast for Judaism's holiest day when suddenly she heard shouts out back. A hail of rocks rained down on the roof and shattered windows in the house where she and her husband, Haim, have lived for 32 years in peaceful, if not always easy, coexistence with Palestinians.

Next door, Izdihar Mashni, also heard the shouting and worried about her elderly Jewish neighbors at home alone. She ran outside to see dozens of young men, some of them in masks, hurling stones. "Stop, stop! We're all Arabs here," she yelled in Arabic.

The rocks came flying again.

Fearful for her children, Mashni ran inside to telephone the Atzmons. "Vickie, I think they're Jews," Mashni said in shock.

Mashni's husband, Mousa, called the police, but the onslaught continued and no one came. The Mashnis' 7-year-old daughter grew frightened and begged her mother not to go outside again. Like most Palestinian children, the girl has been raised on televised accounts and images of Israeli soldiers battling Palestinians during what is now called "the first intifada," the six-year uprising that began in 1987 against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"Momma, Momma, please don't go out, they will cut up your hands!" the girl cried.

The Mashnis thought how they had nothing to protect their children. No guns, not even any rocks.

The Atzmons telephoned police and called their own grown children for help, incredulous that they were under attack. It had never happened before in all the years they had lived in an Arab neighborhood.

Their sons and sons-in-law came running and faced off with the Jewish mob that was shouting, "Death to the Arabs!"

"Stop. We're Jews. Aren't you ashamed?" the Atzmons yelled.

"You should be ashamed," the rock-throwers shot back. "If you are Jewish and live with Arabs, you deserve this!" they yelled as police finally arrived to disperse the crowd.

Izdihar Mashni heard two shots fired, but she never found out if they came from police or someone in the crowd.

Shaken after the attack, the Atzmon and Mashni families remained outside their homes to commiserate in the dark, the men speaking in Hebrew, the women in Arabic.

"We just stood there talking, wishing all of this violence was over," Victoria Atzmon said.

"We were very, very frightened," Izdihar Mashni said.

For many Israelis and Palestinians, such violent clashes have rekindled ancient hatreds that make peace between the two peoples seem nearly impossible. For the Atzmons and Mashnis, the Palestinian riots and Jewish mobs are further proof of why the conflict between the two peoples must be resolved.

"I have so much anger over what is happening now. This is not an equal fight. We must take the other path of peace," said Mashni, 36. "We have our rights in Palestine. Israelis also have their rights. We must have a fair settlement."

This voice of reason, so rare these days, comes from years of living next door to a Jewish family with political differences and learning to get along. There is even a land dispute between the two families that they have taken to court--where they sometimes arrive together in the same car.

"It's not the same as having an Arab neighbor," said Mousa Mashni, 42, who grew up next door to the Atzmon family. "But we have good relations because we try not to talk politics."

The Shuafat neighborhood is part of the land that Israel captured from Jordan during the 1967 Middle East War. The Israeli government annexed the area to the city of Jerusalem in 1968, and the Atzmons moved in a short time later to a house the Mashnis had started building but did not complete because of the war.

The Atzmons were not ideal neighbors from the Palestinian point of view. Haim Atzmon was a military intelligence officer and a city official in charge of construction in East Jerusalem--where the Israeli government had a policy of encouraging Jewish settlement while raising obstacles to Palestinian building.

Atzmon, who is in his 70s, said he moved to Shuafat partly for ideological reasons--he wanted to live in Greater Israel--and partly for personal reasons. An architect and Austrian survivor of Nazi concentration camps, he liked the open feeling.

"The houses were big, the ceilings high; they weren't cramped. And then there was the Arab hospitality," he said.

Victoria Atzmon, a native of Morocco, spoke Arabic and was able to communicate with her neighbors. "When I first came to live here I was called a settler, but then we got used to each other," she said.

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