Israeli forces surround new 'village'

12:00 Mar 20 2013 Ahfad Younis, in Eizariya, near Bab al-Shams.

Palestinian activists organize banners depicting US President Barack
Obama at a protest village in Eizariya, March 20. (Reuters/Ammar Awad)

BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Israeli forces on Wednesday surrounded a new tent village erected by Palestinian activists in Eizariya east of Jerusalem.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said hundreds of Palestinians established "an illegal settlement" and that security forces were in the area "to maintain order."

She said soldiers arrested the driver of a truck loaded with equipment including tents.

Mohammad Khatib, a spokesman for the activists, said soldiers handed protesters a document declaring the area a closed military zone.

"We are staying. We are Palestinians, and we will stay here. They will have to evacuate us. They will have to use their power to do it, but we will not do it by ourselves," Khatib told Ma'an.

"We are staying here because this is Palestinian land. This is our land, and no one has a right to evacuate us."

As US President Barack Obama arrived in Israel, activists set up 15 tents on a hillside near the site of the Bab al-Shams protest village that Israeli forces tore down in January.

They have named the new neighborhood Ahfad Younis, after the main character in the novel Bab al-Shams.

In a statement, the activists described the initiative as “first, to claim our right as Palestinians to return to our lands and villages, second, to claim our sovereignty over our lands without permission from anyone."

The activists said it aimed to highlight their opposition to the Obama administration's policies in the region, saying that it has been "complicit in Israeli occupation and colonialism."

"An administration that used the veto 43 times ... in support of Israel and against Palestinian rights, an administration that grants military aid to Israel of over three billion dollars annually, can’t have any positive contribution to achieve justice," the statement said.


By Jack Khoury for Haaretz
| Mar.20, 2013 | 5:55 PM |

Palestinian activists set up a protest camp on Wednesday in the West Bank's E-1 corridor, close to where Israel wants to build a new settlement, drawing attention to their struggle during a visit to the region by U.S. President Barack Obama.

Over a hundred demonstrators erected four large, steel-framed tents and a massive Palestinian flag on the rugged, rocky tract near Jerusalem, just as Obama arrived in nearby Tel Aviv for three days of talks and meetings.

"We are here to send a message to President Obama, our struggle, our non-violent peaceful resistance will continue until we are free," said senior Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti, standing on the windy outcrop.

Israel Police entered the tent colony and told protesters to clear the area, which they called a "closed military zone," but did not immediately try to tear down the camp.

Obama was holding talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday and is due to travel to the West Bank on Thursday to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

He has said he was coming to listen and would not bring anew peace initiative, three years after the last direct negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians broke down over the question of Jewish settlement construction.

Palestinians complain that Obama has not put enough pressure on Israel to halt the settlements and warn that the prospect of creating a viable, independent state is fading fast.

Netanyahu announced in December plans to build hundreds of settler homes in a sensitive area on Jerusalem's outskirts tha tis known by its administrative name E1.

If construction goes ahead, E1 would create a linked-up stretch of Jewish neighborhoods in the West Bank between Pisgat Zeev and Ma'ale Adumim, a settlement of some 30,000 Israelis.

Palestinians say this would destroy hopes of tying together their communities across East Jerusalem, which they want as the capital of their country.

In the West Bank city of Hebron, a cauldron of tension between Palestinians and Israeli settlers, dozens of school-age Palestinian children wore Obama masks to protest at his visit and marched through the streets.

Israeli forces arrested several of the demonstrators who were marching through Shuhada Street, the city's Palestinian commercial hub until Israel unilaterally closed it in 1994.

"We say to Obama, visiting occupied Palestine is a terrible idea. If you want peace for two states, seek justice for us," said Jamal Jafar, an activist involved in Wednesday's protest.

Palestinian activists have repeatedly established tent camps in areas close to Israeli settlements in recent months in a bid to throw a spotlight on unhindered Jewish construction.

All the sites were subsequently demolished by Israeli forces, who say they present a security risk and lack building permits. A handful of Israeli soldiers gathered on the fringes of Wednesday's camp, but did not try to dislodge it.

Slightly angrier protests against Obama's visit flared in the Gaza Strip, a Mediterranean enclave bordering Israel and Egypt from which Israel withdrew settlers in 2005.

Demonstrators set fire to posters of Obama and to U.S. flags, saying the president's trip would make no difference to Palestinian aspirations.

"Palestinian blood is on your hands Obama" read one banner. Another said: "Obama, the Hitler of the 21st century."

Kayed Al-Ghoul, a senior leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said all Palestinian factions agreed that Obama's arrival would only solely Israel's purposes.

"At this time, the visit aims to support the newly formed Israeli government and put pressure on the Palestinian leadership to return to bilateral talks that have proven to be a failure," he said.
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