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Palestinians  Angry About Orient House Takeover - 2001-08-10

Palestinians are reacting angrily to Israel's decision to seize Orient House, the unofficial Palestinian headquarters in East Jerusalem. Israel made the move after a Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem killed 16 people.

Orient House is a highly symbolic place representing Palestinian hopes for a future state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Built by the Husseini family more than 100 years ago, the two-story mansion served as a hotel before becoming a symbol of Palestinian aspirations after Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.

Palestinian analyst Mahdi Abdul Hadi says Israel's decision to seize Orient House is a provocation. "It is to challenge the Palestinian symbols, the Palestinian narrative, Palestinian history, Palestinian society in Jerusalem embodied in the national, political central address called the Orient House," he said.

Top Palestinian official Faisal Husseini created Orient House as a place for politicians and intellectuals to gather and discuss issues important to the Arab community.

Some even referred to Orient House as the Palestinian foreign ministry, since diplomats would occasionally visit there, despite opposition from the Israeli government.

Israel has closed Orient House before, when Mr. Husseini was in jail for four years during the first Palestinian uprising between 1987 and 1993.

An Israeli law, passed in 1994 and aimed at Orient House, banned any Palestinian political activity that was not approved by the Israeli government.

Mr. Husseini died of a heart attack last May, but Orient House remains a potent symbol of Palestinian nationalism.

Mr. Abdul Haidi says Mr. Husseini and other officials associated with Orient House always supported the peace process with Israel, even during the current wave of violence. "The Orient House has been serving the Palestinian society, the Palestinian community, the Jerusalem people as their political, national address, as a community services institute, as planning and developing and zoning. Planning for Jerusalem's citizens as well as neighborhoods as well as a meeting place to pass the objective message, moderate message, of how to coexist as two people in a shared, open city with two capitals, two flags, two municipalities and two sovereign people," he said.

A statement issued by Orient House called for international intervention in the current conflict, saying Israel has shown a "lack of interest or concern" for the peace process.

Palestinian officials say they plan to escalate the uprising to take back Orient House and other Palestinian institutions seized by the Israelis.