Friday, May 22, 2009

God is stronger than Obama, say Israeli settlers defying bulldozers

From The Times
May 22, 2009

Israeli security forces demolished a tiny Jewish settlement outpost in the West Bank yesterday days after Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister, promised President Obama that he would take a tougher stance against the illegal communities built on Palestinian land.

Only hours after police left the prefab shacks and makeshift synagogue in ruins, however, settlers led by a nationalist member of the Israeli parliament moved back in and started rebuilding the settlement of Maoz Esther, an extension of the existing community of Kokhav Hashahar.

At their meeting in Washington earlier this week, Mr Obama called on Mr Netanyahu to dismantle scores of illegal “outposts” — effectively new suburbs of established settlements.
Mr Netanyahu reportedly agreed to the demands, but hours after the demolition he said that Jerusalem would remain the capital of Israel and would “never be divided”.

Jewish settlers run rings round authorities
Obama to Netanyahu: stop settlements

Palestinians seeking to establish their own state in a future peace agreement want their capital to be in the city. Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator, said: “He’s saying the state of conflict will be eternal.”

In Maoz Esther, no one from the outpost was arrested when security forces moved in with a digger to destroy the half dozen jerry-built homes and a shrine on a hillside.

Standing among washing machines, furniture and holy books that the settlers removed before the bulldozers moved in, the MP Michael Ben Ari of the National Union party helped to rebuild one of the destroyed wooden homes. Mr Ben Ari, whose party is a member of the governing coalition, said: “I have this drill and by tonight the family will be sleeping here again.

“This is just a political game played by Ehud Barak to placate his party,” he said, referring to deep divisions in the Defence Minister’s centre-left Labour Party.

The settlers were determined to continue on what they see as a divine mission to take back the lands occupied by Israel in biblical times. “We are not worried about American pressure,” said Aryeh Davis, a 26-year-old from the settlement of Kiryat Arba in Hebron. “It says in the Bible that this land is ours; it will stay ours and we will keep building more and more. God is stronger than Obama.”

He said that Maoz Esther had been demolished two months ago when only two families lived there: the settlers rebuilt it with six families. “Now we’re back and we’re going to build it twice as big again. We’re asking all settlers to double the number of places they are building to show our defiance.

“Lots of leaders in history tried to bother Israel, like Egypt and Babylon and other empires. We don’t hear about them today, but we still hear about Israel.”

Dana, a middle-aged settler in a headscarf and long dress, said that her house had been destroyed. She said the small synagogue that had been bulldozed was named after a student from Kokhav Hashahar who was killed last year when a Palestinian gunman attacked a Jerusalem seminary.

“The Defence Minister should be ashamed to destroy a synagogue named after a terror victim,” she said. “He may as well burn every Torah in Israel. Building settlements is the most important commandment in the Torah.”

Among those rehabilitating the smashed homes was Baruch Marzel, a notorious figure who was close to Meir Kahane, an assassinated rabbi whose movement was banned by Israel and the US for its anti-Arab racism.

Pointing at the shack that he had helped to resurrect, he said that most settlements in the West Bank started from equally humble beginnings.

“I lived in Maale Adumim in a house in worse condition than that,” he said, referring to a vast settlement suburb of Jerusalem cutting deep into the West Bank. “Now it’s a big city.”

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Divided Jerusalem