JERUSALEM Leading Israeli authors have joined a campaign against the deportation of a Palestinian book shop owner, whose business in east Jerusalem has become a hub for diplomats, artists and academics from across the world.
Jerusalem-born Munther Fahmi's residency was voided by Israel after he left in 1973 to study in the United States, where he acquired citizenship. For 18 years he has been living in Jerusalem intermittently, entering Israel on a tourist visa.
Israeli authorities have said they will no longer allow this and Fahmi faces deportation, but some of the Jewish state's most prominent authors, including David Grossman and Amos Oz, have rushed to his defense, urging Israel to let him stay.
"I think it's a scandal that the Israeli government wants to deport a man born here in Jerusalem, who has family and such a special business here. He just wants to continue his life," Grossman told Reuters.
Literature, history, art and even local cuisine cookbooks are stacked to the ceiling in Fahmi's store, lining the walls of the narrow shop which has been dubbed by some as the only decent English-language book store in the country.
The shop sits opposite the distinguished American Colony hotel, a favorite of top diplomats, ex-pats and foreign journalists. Fahmi says they all frequent his business.
"Presidents, prime ministers, historians, even Hollywood stars, from Kofi Annan to Uma Thurman -- they have all been here," Fahmi said.
A BRIDGE BETWEEN THE PEOPLES
One of Oz's novels sits in Fahmi's shop beside the poetry of Mahmoud Darwish. On the neighboring shelf one can find Keith Richards' autobiography and opposite is a history of Syrian lingerie.
Oz told Reuters the owner of such a unique establishment must not be expelled. "The Bookshop is an important cultural center which draws people from many different backgrounds, cultures and nationalities," Oz said.
Fahmi says his shop is a bridge between both sides of the decades old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "The shop brings together Israelis and Palestinians. It's not just books, we hold literary events which both sides contribute to," he said.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem after a 1967 war in a move not recognized internationally. It offered locals citizenship, but many refused, not wanting to accept Israeli sovereignty. Most Palestinians have residency rights, but the government can revoke them if they live abroad or take dual nationality.
Fahmi said he lost a long legal battle to reinstate his residency. However, Israel's supreme court has recommended he appeal to the interior ministry on humanitarian grounds.
An interior ministry spokeswoman said an appeal on humanitarian grounds would be considered. According to ministry statistics, he stands a fifty-fifty chance of success.
Fahmi says his situation is a plight shared by many others.
"I'm not the only one facing this problem, there are thousands of others. My case is just being highlighted because of my position here and my work," he said.
Asked whether the book shop would close down if he was deported, a stern expression comes over Fahmi's face. "I'm not going to discuss that," he said, "it's not going to happen."
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Elizabeth Piper)