Sharon Home in Muslim Quarter Stakes His Claims

Guarded by police around the clock, Ariel Sharon's house stands empty in the heart of the Muslim Quarter — a symbol of the Israeli prime minister-elect's intention to keep all of the holy city.

The imposing stone house represents Sharon's core belief that Jews have the right to live anywhere inside the walls of Jerusalem's contested Old City, even the Muslim Quarter, which Palestinians see as theirs, calling his house a provocation.

Sharon, who soundly beat Ehud Barak in Tuesday's election, has scarcely spent a night in the house since he bought it in 1987.

"He does not even come here," said Farid Mansour, 43, who owns a restaurant near Sharon's Israeli flag-draped home. "He has a history of causing problems, and he will keep on being an instigator."

The current round of Palestinian unrest started with Sharon's demonstrative Sept. 28 visit to a disputed holy site in the Old City, sacred to both Muslims and Jews and claimed by both.

Sharon's election was welcomed as a blessing by Jewish seminary students who live and study in the Muslim Quarter. Dancing, clapping, and singing Jerusalem's praises, they hoisted an 80-year-old refurbished Torah scroll from Poland in the air and swirled around it with Israeli flags.

In the 1948 Mideast war, predominantly Arab east Jerusalem, including the Old City, came under Jordanian control. Jews were not permitted to pray at the Western Wall. After capturing the area in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel annexed it.

It Wasn't Always This Way

Watching the procession of Jewish seminarians go by the door of his Internet cafe, Murad Dajani said things have changed.

"My father told me that before 1948 Jews and Muslims here lived and ate together, if there was danger they protected one another. But now we see a different kind of Jew coming here and they feed off hatred of the Muslims," Dajani said.

Jewish settlers in the West Bank and Gaza were also hopeful because of Sharon's victory. They spoke of expanding their communities in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — areas where the Palestinians hope to establish a state.

"There were a lot of plans frozen by Prime Minister Barak that will hopefully be defrosted," said Yehudit Tayar, spokeswoman of the settler council.

Barak was the first Israeli leader to offer the Palestinians shared control of Jerusalem. Under his peace plan, the Muslim Quarter would have been transferred to the Palestinians. Sharon has pledged to keep all of the city under exclusive Israeli sovereignty.

Establishing a Jewish Presence

Sharon aide Raanan Gissin said that before the 1948 Mideast War, many of the houses on the street were Jewish-owned. He said Sharon bought the house to establish a Jewish presence on a road leading to a Jewish holy site, the Western Wall.

Over the last three decades, Jews have bought dozens of properties in the Muslim Quarter.

In contrast to the celebrations, a dreary drizzle fell outside. The rain trickled over the stone memorials to the Jews who have been shot or stabbed to death in the quarter in recent years and on the makeshift awnings strung up by Palestinian merchants trying to keep their wares dry.

"We all need peace," Dajani said as he looked out on Hagai Street.