Palestinians erect new E1 tents as Obama arrives

IDF blocks off all roads to encampment site; issues eviction orders to protesters at Ahfad Yunis tent city.

Palestinians protest tents E1 370 (photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
Palestinians protest tents E1 370
(photo credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters)
The IDF on Wednesday night handed out immediate eviction orders to Palestinians who had erected a small tent city earlier in the day on the edges of E1, an unbuilt area of the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement.
They timed their surprise act of civil disobedience for the arrival of US President Barack Obama in Israel for 50-hour visit.
It is assumed that security forces will enter the area to evict the activists, but as of press time, it was unclear when they would do so.
Security forces had blocked off all the roads to the site located just outside the Palestinian village of Eizariya.
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But activists were able to hike up the hill to the tent city on foot. In the dark, under the stars, dozens of activists straggled into the encampment, some carrying sleeping bags and flashlights that from a distance looked like small pinpricks of light.
Building tent encampments is the latest initiative organized by the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee to protest Israel building in Area C of the West Bank, where, under the Oslo Accords, Israel has civil and security control.
Security forces have been on alert for such activity since Palestinians first erected a tent city on E1 in January that Israel dismantled within days.
But on Wednesday, the activists were able to sneak into the area and put up three large tents and five or six gray camping tents, before security forces closed off the area.
They also erected a large Palestinian flag that could be seen by drivers heading up the main road into Ma’aleh Adumim.
Palestinians have renamed E1 Bab al- Shama and called their new tent city Ahfad Yunis.
Organizers said they wanted to protect the land from settlement expansion, claim their rights to return to the land and their sovereignty over it as well as to continue their “popular resistance.”
The activists, like all Palestinians, are particularly opposed to the construction of E1, which they say will harm the viability of their future state by blocking its territorial contiguity, particularly the ability to develop the area just outside east Jerusalem.
Israel has said that building in E1 would not block such contiguity since bypass roads would be built into the plan. It has further argued that Ma’aleh Adumim, including the E1 neighborhood, would remain part of Israel in any final-status agreements.
At the end of 2012, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu authorized the advancement of plans to construct 3,500 housing units in E1. Ma’aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel has complained that the plans are frozen.
But that has not assuaged the Palestinian activists who believe that building will move forward. Although the US has long pressured Israel not to build in E1, activists still said they were upset with Obama for his continued support of Israel.
Organizers said, “An administration that used the veto 43 times out of 79 [between 1979-2011] in support of Israel and against Palestinian rights, an administration that grants military aid to Israel of over $3 billion annually, can’t have any positive contribution to achieve justice and rights of the Palestinian people.”
Next to the flag and on the tents activists posted signs with a photograph of Obama and messages to him.
As the sun set some of the men gathered for prayer. While they stood, bowed, kneeled, kissed the ground and prayed, other activists built bonfires.
In the dark, as the fires burned and activists sang nationalist songs, one of the organizers, Muhammad Khatib, said that America needs to stop voting against the Palestinians.
“We wanted to send a message to the American president and the American policy makers, that enough is enough. The Palestinians have a right to live in peace and justice,” Khatib said.
Separately, on the opposite side of Jerusalem, in the Karmei Tzur settlement, settlers held a rally on Wednesday afternoon calling on Obama to release Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence in a US prison for passing classified information to Israel.
MK Shuli Muallem (Bayit Yehudi) said she dreamed of the day when Pollard could return home.
The settlers rededicated a neighborhood in the settlement to Pollard which they named Tzur Yonatan.