Israeli security forces escort Jewish worshipers coming from the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, as they cross al-Wad street in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, on September 15, 2015
Israeli security forces escort Jewish worshipers coming from the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, as they cross al-Wad street in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, on September 15, 2015 © Thomas Coex - AFP
Israeli security forces escort Jewish worshipers coming from the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, as they cross al-Wad street in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem's Old City, on September 15, 2015
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Majeda El-Batsh
Last updated: October 20, 2015

In Jerusalem's Old City, a once-busy street now at the heart of divide

Banner Icon Al-Wad Street used to be one of the busiest within the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, but today the narrow alley is almost empty except for Israeli soldiers.

It was along this alleyway that a young Palestinian stabbed and killed two Jews on October 3, the first knife attack in a wave of violence across Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In the days since, Israeli police have set up three metal detectors and more than 10 checkpoints along the street, where groups of young Israeli women often bring juice and cakes to police.

Set between the walls of the Old City inside annexed east Jerusalem, Al-Wad may only be several metres (yards) wide.

But it is a main thoroughfare for both Muslim and Jewish worshippers heading to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound and the Western Wall.

The street is home to Palestinian shopkeepers and residents as well as Israeli settlers and Jewish students, who study at seminaries known as yeshivas near the Al-Aqsa mosque, which is the third holiest site in Islam.

As Israel has tightened security in the wake of the attacks, Palestinians often must hand over identity cards, raise their arms, lift up their shirts and roll up their trousers to the knees, including on Al-Wad.

Palestinian shopkeepers say they have seen this happen before and fear for their future.

Shuhada Street in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron -- which once bustled with customers and shopkeepers -- was emptied by Israeli soldiers in 2000 to create a buffer zone between Jewish settlers and Palestinians.

"They'll have to run us and our children over first, if they want to do the same to us!" says Khaled Tuffaha, who is struggling to sell his locally made souvenirs to a dwindling number of tourists.

A STREET 'BESIEGED'

"The police, the settlers and their private security guards have been harassing us for a long time," he says. "It was already daily, but these last few days it has become much worse."

Many of the shops around him are closed.

But as a sign of resistance, Tuffaha opens his shop every day from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm, "even if we don't sell anything".

"Nobody was forced to close, but the Old City is closed off, Al-Wad Street is besieged and the soldiers and settlers are everywhere," sweets shop owner Jihad Abu Subeih says.

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On the other side of the street's divide, Israeli settlers -- who have been moving into occupied Palestinian lands since 1967 -- live under the constant watch of hired private security guards.

Israeli flags hang from their buildings, some bearing slogans such as "Long Live Israel".

One building on Al-Wad Street in particular stands out -- "Sharon's House", named after former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who bought it in 1987.

A 10-metre (30-foot) flag hangs down its front, asserting what settlers believe is the Jewish right to settle in the Old City.

Inside, behind metal barriers and under police surveillance, mourners have been gathering to pay their respects to the two Jews killed in the October 3 stabbing.

A young girl arranges candles shaped like the Star of David under an Israeli flag.

Elad Margel, a 32-year-old religious student, has come to honour the victims.

"If we were at peace, Arabs could live among us," he says. "But they are attacking us."

"We are at war. They have to be removed from Judea and Samaria (the occupied West Bank) and Gaza to Jordan."

Daniel Luria, whose Ateret Cohanim activist group helps Jews purchase homes in east Jerusalem, says maintaining a Jewish presence on streets like Al-Wad shows the world "we're not afraid".

"There need to be more Jews in the Old City," he says.

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