However, in Jerusalem, the town's fundamentalist Jewish mayor Uri Lupolianski, seems to be doing just that.

Last week, Lupolianski asked the Israeli interior ministry to allow him to convert an entire Arab neighbourhood, known as Wadi al-Juz, into a Jewish-only neighbourhood.

His declared justification is that the "re-zoning of the area" would "enhance the unity of Jerusalem" and "strengthen the link between Jewish neighbourhoods".

The ultra-orthodox rabbi also argued that the confiscation of Wadi al-Juz would bolster "Jewish demography" in Jerusalem and ensure the safety of Jewish traffic from Jerusalem to the nearby settlement of Maali Adumim.

Systematic coercion

Wadi al-Juz is probably the only remaining breathing space for East Jerusalem Palestinians struggling to extricate themselves from an overwhelming housing crisis resulting mainly from decades of systematic Israeli efforts to get them to leave the town which Israel considers its "united capital".

"I can say that Israel is trying quietly to oust as many non-Jews from Jerusalem as possible," said MY Sub-Laban, a Wadi al-Juz resident who is worried that the municipal authorities will eventually confiscate his ancestral home to give it to a Jewish immigrant family.

"I can unhesitatingly compare what is happening in this town to Nazi Germany's efforts to clear German towns of Jews in the 1930s and early 1940s."

"They did it all over Palestine. I see no reason why they wouldn't do it here as well."

Far from rebuking Lupolianski for his racist scheme, which in other countries would have raised an outcry, the Israeli interior ministry praised the plan in principle, saying it is "sound, interesting and makes a lot of sense".

The ministry's reaction, says Khalil Tufakji, head of the cartography department at the Arab Studies Centre in Jerusalem, proves that "there is a coordinated Israeli policy toward East Jerusalem based on ethnic cleansing and racial discrimination".

"They want no non-Jews here and they are doing it stone by stone, house by house, neighbourhood by neighbourhood and street by street - and at the top of that they tell the world that they are the only democracy in the Middle East," he said.

Demographic woes

Israel's campaign to expel as many non-Jews as possible from Jerusalem and bring in Jews is driven by demographic considerations.

An aerial shot of part of the old
city and al-Aqsa Mosque

Today, the Arab inhabitants of the city (East and West Jerusalem) make up nearly 37% of the total population of nearly 700,000  and are steadily increasing despite meticulous efforts by successive Israeli governments to Judaise the city.

The policy of discrimination, says Tufakji, transcends bears no relationship to the planning of day-to-day municipal services such as education, housing, taxes and zoning.

For example, the Israeli ministry of housing has built 54,000 housing units for Jews in East Jerusalem and surrounding settlements since Israel occupied the Arab town in 1967.

Asked how many housing units Israel built for non-Jews (Arabs) during the past 37 years, Tufakji said: "Only 22."

Old town

Earlier in September, the Israeli newspaper Maariv reported that Jerusalem's municipal council was studying a secret plan to get as many non-Jews as possible to leave the old town of Jerusalem for the purpose of increasing the Jewish population.

A Jewish settler at his apartment
in east Jerusalem

Today, there are 4600 Jewish settlers living in the walled town, surrounding the Haram al-Sharif compound, which houses al Masjid al-Aqsa, one of Islam's holiest sites, as opposed to 27,400 Palestinians, including 24,700 Muslims and 2600 Christian Arabs and Armenians.

According to the plan, the Israeli authorities would press Arab citizens of the old town to abandon their homes which would then be expropriated - confiscation under another name - in order to settle Jews.

A variety of means would be employed to effect the plan, including barring Arabs from renovating their homes, or adding rooms and annexes, refusing to register the homes and other real estate in the town's property registry on the grounds that the properties are "disputed". The final means is forcible expulsion.

An inducement would also be offered to the Arabs in the form of alternative housing "outside the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem".

Chosen people

The entire plan would be marketed and affected under the deceptive title of "easing the housing crisis in East Jerusalem".

"It would be a gross understatement to call this a mere danger - it is a real catastrophe"

Khalil Tufakji,
cartography department head, Arab Studies Centre, Jerusalem

"They [Israel] are simply trying to cordon off the Haram al-Sharif with a Jewish demographic belt," says Tufakji. "This would be the penultimate step that precedes the take over or destruction of the Aqsa Mosque."

"This is their ultimate plan. I would be blind or stupid if I thought otherwise. It would be a gross understatement to call this a mere danger - it is a real catastrophe."

Adnan al-Hussaini, head of the Supreme Muslim Council in East Jerusalem, concurs.

He accuses Israel of adopting a policy of ethnic cleansing.

"What they are telling us is that we are not wanted here because we are not Jews - because we don't belong to the chosen people."

Al-Jazeera.net submitted a letter to the municipal officials in Jerusalem inquiring about the council's policies on the non-Jewish inhabitants of the city. Despite several follow-up calls, the municipal council failed to respond.