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Israelis Defy Continued Violence, Declining Business - 2002-03-06

Jerusalem has become a city of fear as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict intensifies. More and more businesses are shutting down as people shun the downtown area, which has been hit by suicide bombings and shooting attacks.

Shortly after another terror attack in downtown Jerusalem, Marcel Hess opened a new eatery in a festive atmosphere, even hiring a jazz band for the occasion.

The party was in stark contrast to the mood in the central business district, where shop and restaurant owners have been shutting down in reaction to the constant danger and the dramatic slump in trade.

Tourists have been almost non-existent in the city center since the start of the Palestinian uprising 17 months ago, and now more and more residents are also staying away.

But Mr. Hess, who emigrated from Switzerland, said he is in Jerusalem to stay and he believes that eventually the situation will improve.

"[Jerusalem] is my home. I want to live here. I want to work here. I made a contract for ten years, and I hope that the next generation takes it over. It is not a business for me only, it is for me a social, cultural connection and I want it to be a meeting place for people from Jerusalem, people coming to Jerusalem from all over the world," he said.

Despite his clear enthusiasm, the prospect of Jerusalem attracting more visitors in the present climate appears slim.

On Saturday, at least 10 Israelis returning from religious services were killed in a Palestinian suicide bomb blast near the center of Jerusalem. One of the victims was a baby and several others were children.

Prominent Israelis are calling on citizens to stand firm and not be intimidated by the violence.

Among the guests at the opening of Mr. Hess' restaurant was the Chief Rabbi of the Jewish State, Yisrael Meir Lau.

Rabbi Lau has said that other business owners in Jerusalem should take heart from Mr. Hess's fortitude, saying this was not the first time Jewish people had been forced to face up to great ordeals.

"We are a nation, who is very stiff-necked. We have passed all kinds of obstacles, especially in the last century. And I think we must be optimistic and never to give up and never to lift up the hands, with defeat or with depression. Because our power is in our quality and in our spirit and my hope is that nobody will give up and nobody will leave the country, just the contrary," Rabbi Lau said.

Rabbi Lau appealed for more Jews to immigrate to the Holy Land, saying it was still a safe haven from persecution, despite the current violence.

He says that Israel, with Jerusalem at its heart, remains what he calls the modern day "Noah's Ark, for the survival of the Jewish people."