Palestinians plan protest to halt Shadma development

Dozens of Palestinians hope to hold weekly protest against development of Gush Etzion hilltop, known as Oush Ghrab.

Shadma Protest 370 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Shadma Protest 370
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Palestinians on Sunday held the first of what they hope will be weekly protests meant to halt any attempt by settlers to develop a small Gush Etzion hilltop, known to Israeli as Shadma and to Palestinians as Oush Ghrab.
Several dozen Palestinians holding flags and signs stood in the parking lot behind the hill, which is sandwiched between the Palestinian village of Beit Sahur and the Nokdim road.
From a small base on Shadma, a few soldiers looked at the protesters as a few activists spoke through a megaphone, first in Arabic and then in English.
George Rishmawi, from Beit Sahur, told the demonstrators that a settlement on the hilltop would threaten the life of the Palestinians in his village and prevent its expansion.
“Therefore we are going to do our best to prevent it. We will stand solid and strong. We need everyone to stand in solidarity with us,” Rishmawi said.
“We are a small number here today, but we are hoping and expecting that this number will grown. We know that popular struggle is not an easy thing or a fast process. It takes time and patience,” he said.
Jewish residents of Gush Etzion began battling for the hilltop in 2008, after they discovered that the IDF planned to hand it to the Palestinian Authority so that a hospital could be built there for Beit Sahur.
For two years, the Women in Green and the Community for a Jewish Shadma NGOs held weekly activities there, mostly on Friday mornings, in which they argued that the hilltop, which overlooked the region and the Nokdim road, must remain in Israeli hands.
In 2010, they persuaded the IDF to re-open the military base there it had closed in 2006.
They are now lobbying the government to build there. A number of signs in Hebrew with the words “Shadma” already dot the road to the site.
Newly elected Gush Etzion Regional Council head Davidi Perl told The Jerusalem Post last week that he had joined that effort, and believed it would be best to start with some sort of civilian institution.
Women in Green and the Community for a Jewish Shadma have already drawn up architecture plans for a cultural center there.
During Succot on Thursday October 4, the two groups held an event at Shadma to honor a veteran of the settlement movement, Ina Viniarsky, who helped establish 35 Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria.
Among those who attended were Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), who lives in the neighboring Nokdim settlement, and Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein (Likud), who lives in the nearby Neveh Daniel settlement.
Both men spoke of the importance of Jewish building at the site.
Nadia Matar of Women in Green said, “We should look at it as an additional neighborhood of [nearby] Har Homa [in Jerusalem],” she said.
“We have to make sure that people realize how strategically important it is. The Palestinians are eying it because it is the only nearby [land from] Area C. They are trying to steal it from us to break Jewish continuity here,’ she said. (Under the Oslo Accords, Area C is under complete Israeli civilian and security control.) But Rishmawi said it was the settlers who were trying to steal the hilltop from Palestinians.
Beit Sahur residents who heard of Liberman’s visit were moved to renew their struggle for the site, which they say has been ongoing for many years.
Until the IDF returned to the hill and declared it a closed military zone, Palestinians would also make weekly visits there, Rishmawi said.
If settlers can access the site, despite its military status, Palestinians should be allowed there as well, he said.
He added that Jewish building there was illegal under international law.
On Sunday, as the sun set, the small band of anti-settlement protesters marched from the rear parking law, down the hill and toward the Nokdim road.
At the bottom soldiers blocked their path.
For a short time, activists and soldiers stood within a few meters of each other.
At one point, an activist picked up a megaphone and yelled at the soldiers: “Why can Liberman visit and we can’t? Why can settlers visit, why?” “This is apartheid,” he said as he answered his own question.
Eventually, the Palestinians ended the rally, and marched back up the hill to Beit Sahur.