E-1 cornerstone ceremony 248.88.
(photo credit: Channel 10)
"The word '[settlement] freeze' is indecent," National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau (Israel Beiteinu) told close to 1,000 protesters who gathered at the E-1 site in Ma'aleh Adumim on Monday evening.
They came to combat attempts by the government to halt Jewish construction in Judea and Samaria, including in E-1, where settlers want to build 3,500 homes.
As the sun set, protesters and politicians stood on a sandy lot by the regional police station, the only structure on the otherwise empty E-1 hilltops.
Although a number of prime ministers including Binyamin Netanyahu have spoken of the necessity of the project while on the campaign trail, once in office they have all refused to approve it.
On Monday, Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel and a number of other politicians from the Likud, Israel Beiteinu, Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union demanded that Israel buck US pressure to freeze settlement activity.
Although the protest was held on the same day that the Defense Ministry approved the construction of 455 new housing units, including 89 in Ma'aleh Adumim, all the speakers focused on the second part of the plan, which calls for a temporary moratorium on new projects.
At stake, a number of speakers said, was not just the future of Ma'aleh Adumim - the third largest settlement and home to 33,800 people - but the dream of a Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people.
Ma'aleh Adumim borders Jerusalem on the south, and plays an important role in securing its future, said Likud MK Ze'ev Elkin.
Construction in E-1, which settlers already call Mevaseret Adumim, would prevent Palestinians from making east Jerusalem the capital of their state, said Elkin.
"For everyone for whom the battle for Jerusalem is dear, they should know it begins here," he said.
Kashriel said that only last year, when Netanyahu was the leader of the opposition, he promised to support construction in E-1.
Kashriel, a long-time Likud member, said, "Netanyahu my friend, since 1992 we have walked together in the Likud Party. You always received the support of Ma'aleh Adumim residents. The time has come for you to support us."
In the last election, the Likud garnered more votes in Ma'aleh Adumim than any other party.
"The time has come to say to Obama, Israel has red lines when it comes to national and security interests, and this neighborhood [E-1] will be built," Kashriel said.
At one point during the rally, several dozen members of Peace Now marched onto the hilltop with signs against settlement construction.
They were almost immediately surrounded by a crowd of right-wing activists, who pushed them back down the road, shouting out words like "virus." Some chanted, "I hate you and the Arabs."
The protest ended with the symbolic cornerstone-laying ceremony for E-1, in which politicians buried a canister containing a scroll.
Dani Dayan, who heads the Council of Jewish Communities of Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, said the media had downplayed the significance of the ceremony.
"That's a mistake," said Dayan, adding that the day real construction began on the hilltop would arrive sooner than anyone imagined.
MK Uri Orbach (Habayit Hayehudi) said he was so certain a community would be built on the hilltop that he had started to imagine the school and the grassy field, the arguments that would emerge over swimming hours at the pool and the inevitable desire by the residents of the Mevaseret Adumim neighborhood to secede from their parent city.
"Be warned," Orbach said, "we won't let you."
In the parking lot, Joel and Nomi Guberman of Ma'aleh Adumim held a protest of their own.
They brought plastic lego pieces and wooden blocks so their children could build a toy home in place of the real one they dream of erecting in the area one day.
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