Hamdan, 53, the mukhtar (head) of the east Jerusalem village of Tzur Baher who is married to three wives and is the proud father of 18, announced his candidacy on Wednesday. In an interview to Ynet he says: "I was married to a Jewish woman from Tel Aviv, but we divorced about three years ago". His name has been mentioned before as a possible mayoral candidate, but according to Hamdan, those were just speculations; this time, its official.
Jewish friends call more than Arab. Zohir Hamdan (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
Hamdan was born in Jordan, and studied engineering in Beirut. "I love this country, that's why I came here in 1974. My father and other relatives were already here. It was a family reunion; it was my duty to come here for my father", he said, describing his love for the country and for Jerusalem. Since his arrival, Hamdan has held several jobs, among them chief negotiator for east Jerusalem.
"I have many Jewish friends"Tzur Baher, Zohir Hamdan's village, was in the news recently for a different reason. Terrorist Hossam Dwayyat, who killed three people by running them over with a stolen bulldozer, was a resident of the village. However, Hamdan goes about things in the opposite direction, wishing to bring Jews and Arabs closer together. "I'm chairman of the co-existence forum in Jerusalem. I was the first one to bring co-existence into the frey. When the Tanzim were shooting at the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo, I sympathized with the residents of Gilo."
"I have many Jewish friends from all over the country," adds Hamdan. "I go to visit them; they visit me and shop in Tzur Baher. We don't have any problems here. Since I announced that I was running for mayor, the phone hasn't stopped ringing. More Jews call to congratulate me than Arabs".
However, not everyone is happy with Hamdan's close relationship with Jews. Seven years ago, there was an attempt made on his life.
"Tanzim operatives shot me in 2001 because I was working for co-exsistence with Jews. I was shot in several places, including the stomach, and I ended up in the hospital for two months. Despite this incident, and the fact that the Palestinian Authority has told east Jerusalem arabs to boycott the elections, Hamdan remains unfazed.
'I will not divide this city'The single Arab contender isn't interested in establishing a relationship with the Palestinian Authority. "I'm not interested in any contact with the PA. I don't care if they are mad. Am I scared? No. Elections? That's their own internal matter".
Hamdan also has a single minded position in regards to the political future of the Palestinian Authority. "Hamas and Fatah need to talk among themselves, sort out their grievances, Then they can talk about a Palestinian state," he explains.
The security fence in the Jerusalem area. (Photo: AFP)
Hamdan holds a similar position on the matter of east Jerusalem. When asked if he would agree to transfer Arab neighborhoods to a Palestinian state, his response was that "Israel took over these neighborhoods from Jordan in 1967, and a large majority of the population is Jordanian. They should ask Jordan, I will not divide this city."
Hamdan adds that the Security fence has greatly to do with the security situation. "That is a decision that was made by the State for the sake of security. I can't go into it due to my position in the city; if any citizen has a complaint I will help as much as I can. State security is important and I will not interfere."
'Aryeh Deri is a good man'
The large number of candidates doesn't deter Hamdan. "I wish them all of them good luck " he says, adding that he believes Aryeh Deri "is a good man."
"The whole country is guilty of corruption, not just him," he says.
Youths for Deri signing supporters. (Photo: Ronen Medzini)
As for businessman Arcadi Gaydamak, who promised that he will appoint an Arab deputy mayor should he win, Hamdan isn't impressed. "A person who is running should know what is going on here…people are interested in action, not talk. Whoever runs the city needs to be of the people, a person who knows the real needs of the city. The Arabs aren't holding their breath for Gaydamak. The Arabs will establish their own power center".
The Arab candidate isn't afraid to predict that in two months everything will change in the State capital, with him leading the change. "I will bring a new kind of politics to the city. My door will always be open, and you won't need to schedule a meeting months in advance", he promises. "With me, there will be no discrimination; the holy city belongs to all of us, and we will live here in peace and harmony, respecting all religions," he added.
'No gay pride parade'When asked if he would approve holding the Gay Pride Parade in the city, Hamdan declared "absolutely not. According to all world religions, what they are doing is unacceptable, both in the Koran and the Torah. I'm not religious or an extremist, I respect religion. Personally, I negate these people. A person must maintain personal dignity, and in these matters there is none. That is my opinion, I may be wrong. Whoever loves Jerusalem –is not gay".
Hamdan emphasizes that his message is one of hope. "I promise to help out all the young people and build them homes, approve construction as much as legally possible, and stop home demolition in this city. I will enable all of the citizens of this city to live honorably, while respecting the law. No one can divide Jerusalem. I hope and believe that we will live in hope and peace between all residents".
History has shown that the Arab residents of Jerusalem don't like to vote in the Municipal elections, though Hamdan is sure that east Jerusalem resident will show up to vote in droves. "I'm telling you the Arab voter turnout will be huge, God willing. They used to be afraid of the PA, now they are seeing what is going on and they are just tired of the silliness in the Palestinian leadership. Look at was is going on in Gaza, everyone is killing everyone. The residents of east Jerusalem are tired of these stories," explains Hamdan.
Not the first candidateIf Hamdan does win, he will be the first contender from east Jerusalem who does so. However he isn't the first candidate from east Jerusalem and he certainly isn't the first Arab candidate.
In 1989 Hana Seniora, a Palestinian resident of Beit Haninah decided to enter the race. Massive pressure from the PLO caused him to drop out of the race. In 1998 Moosa Alian, a businessman from Beit Tzafafa, entered the race but did not get enough votes. Additional attempts were made by the Hadash political party and the Communist party, but with no success.