Concerned About Their Land, Settlers Establish Caravans

One day after a ministerial committee authorized continued, but slower, building in the communities surrounding Jerusalem, Jewish settlers took to the hills to stake their claim to lands they said were slated for development.

Residents from Ma’aleh Amos, located in the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements south of Jerusalem, set up caravans Thursday on three hilltops in the area, saying they intended to build at the site.

Bedouins from the nearby village of Kissan protested the move. The Civil Administration ordered the caravans to be taken down at two of the hilltops, saying they lay outside the settlement’s development plans.

But the Civil Administration was reviewing the third site, which was closest to the Bedouin village and about a mile from Ma’aleh Amos, but apparently within the settlement’s development boundaries.

Earlier Thursday, residents from Kochav Ya’acov, near the West Bank town of Ramallah, moved tractors to an undeveloped plot of land, where they planned to build a new neighborhood.

Palestinians from the area threatened to demonstrate, and the Civil Administration ordered the work halted.

Residents of the settlement, along with members of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, said the land is part of the settlement.

Elhanan Rappoport, a resident of Kochav Ya’acov, told Israel Radio why the community had decided to start work now.

“We want to remove any doubts over ownership,” he said. “Maybe the land is outside the current army fence” surrounding the settlement.

“But this land belongs to the settlement” he said. “If Palestinians perceive our actions as provocation, that is up to them. This is part of the settlement.”

This week the ministerial committee on building in the territories authorized the completion or construction of some 4,000 privately financed apartments in Jerusalem’s so-called satellite communities. This included retroactive approval of apartments that had already been sold.

The committee approved the sale of 800 apartments in Ma’aleh Adumim, as well as the gradual building of 1,000 additional apartments over the course of the next two years.

The ministers approved the completion of 1,000 apartments in Betar, as well as a plan to build 900 more.

The committee also authorized the completion of 340 apartments in Givat Ze’ev, and the planning for 800 more units, all to be located on private lands within the settlement’s existing boundaries.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said that the government had also approved the completion of 7,000 apartments, which are in advanced stages of construction.

Settlement leaders at first criticized the ministerial committee’s decision, saying it was misleading the public by authorizing apartments which had already been approved.

But leaders of the communities surrounding Jerusalem later met with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and emerged saying they were satisfied.

In the words of Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel, “We got what we wanted.”

The Palestinian Authority reacted angrily to the ministers’ decisions on construction.

It warned that any continued building violates the Palestinian self-rule accord and could lead to further unrest and demonstrations.

Last week, Palestinians protesting Israeli settlement activity launched demonstrations in several West Bank towns, including Hebron, Tulkarm and Nablus.

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