Construction freeze is latest blow for Ma'aleh Adumim woman

Construction freeze just

Esther David 248.88 tovah (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Esther David 248.88 tovah
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Esther David lost her husband in a terrorist attack, her 12-year-old son to a debilitating illness and her home to the corrupt construction company, Heftsiba. The stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process has now dealt David what she called, "the fourth blow." Just as she had begun to hope she could finally build a home of her own in Ma'aleh Adumim with a new construction company, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu last month imposed a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. The move froze work on her home. "I do not even know who to cry for - my husband, my child, my house," said David, who spoke to The Jerusalem Post in the living room of her small rental apartment. Its walls were bare, save for a large photograph of her husband, Zion, taken two months before he was killed in May 2003. "I'm angry at the government which has bested me twice. First, when it allowed Palestinians to kill my husband and the second time when Bibi stopped the work on my house," said David. Outside her window gray clouds rolled across the brown hilltops on the outskirts of Ma'aleh Adumim, the third-largest West Bank settlement, located just outside of Jerusalem, 4.5 kilometers away from the Green Line. From her sofa, David can see the site where she had expected, by this time, to have a house. She is one of at least 100 settler families who would already be living in their new homes if Heftsiba had not swindled them. Just as they were beginning to build again, the moratorium put their plans put on hold for the second time. For David, who counts time based on the tragedies that have plagued her life, it is a particularly difficult setback. David, 51, grew up in Jerusalem and married in 1975. In 1985, she and her husband moved to Givat Ze'ev, another settlement located just outside of Jerusalem, where one could buy a larger apartment for less money. In February 2001, the first tragedy struck her family. Her son, Avi, was wounded in the back by Palestinian snipers as he was traveling in the area of the Atarot. It took him a year to recover. In May 2003, on her birthday, her husband Zion left home around 5:40 a.m. to head to a West Bank settlement where he was working as a contractor. "He told my daughters to buy things because he had a surprise for me," said David, who later found out that he had planned to hold a party for her that night. Instead, she said, "I got a different surprise." Zion stopped to pray in Ofra and was killed by a Palestinian sniper as he left the settlement. "I was very afraid each time that he would head out in that direction," said David. "I would always call to see if he had made it to work. He would call me at the end of the day to tell me that he was on the way home. "That morning I tried to call him, and he simply was not answering. At first I thought he was praying. After 10 minutes I tried again and again," she said. She did not have to wait long to learn his fate. By 7 a.m. officials from the Givat Ze'ev local council were at her door to tell her of her husband's death. "I would not accept it. Until today, I do not believe it. I've had six years of sleepless nights," said David. After her husband's death, her son Orel's health deteriorated. He was the youngest of six children, and had been born with Down syndrome. He was quite heavy and had a number of other health-related issues. As he got older, it became harder and harder for David to care for him alone. Her brother would come from Ma'aleh Adumim to help her, she said. After a time, it was clear that it would make more sense for her to move to Ma'aleh Adumim to be closer to her brother. In 2006, she signed a contract to buy an apartment Heftsiba was planning in the city, and was promised a ground floor apartment that was handicap-accessible. To pay for it, she sold her Givat Ze'ev home and handed Heftsiba NIS 710,000 in cash. She then took a rental apartment in Ma'aleh Adumim, planning to move at the beginning of January 2007. On a Friday night, just before her Sunday move, her son Orel could not sleep. As a result, neither did she. "He called to me that he wanted something to drink," said David. She also helped him go to the bathroom and then she sat with him for a bit. "I told him that he should go to sleep because we were going to his sister's home for lunch," said David. Suddenly he fell on his face, she said. She called for an ambulance, but the medics could not revive him. He had suffered a fatal heart attack, said David. Instead of moving that Sunday, as she had planned, she buried Orel and sat shiva in her old apartment before moving to the Ma'aleh Adumim rental. Eight months later, in August, Heftsiba collapsed. After a round of legal proceedings, a second company took over the plot, and insisted that she would have to pay an additional NIS 200,000 to receive the apartment. David has yet to figure out how to pay that sum, particularly with daily expenses eating up all her money. Since arriving in Ma'aleh Adumim, she said, she has paid NIS 150,000 in rent. The new contractor did nothing with the project, which was finally taken over by a third company. It had been in the midst of laying foundations when Netanyahu announced the freeze. The moment she heard about the freeze, David said, it was clear to her that her house was once again in jeopardy. "I understood that I would not see a home in the near future," said David. She wrote a letter to Netanyahu appealing for help. Ma'aleh Adumim Mayor Benny Kashriel has taken up her cause, but to date she has heard nothing. David didn't vote in the last election and does not pay much attention to politics or diplomacy. She moved to Ma'aleh Adumim for personal reasons, she said. Ideology did not come into play. "I do not think of myself as a settler. I think of myself as someone who lives in Israeli territory," said David. So she was surprised to discover that as someone who lives over the Green Line she was now vulnerable. Politicians speak of the 10-month freeze as if it has no impact, she said. But in her case, where paying rent is a struggle, each month counts. She remembers that at one time she was an independent person who helped others. Now, she said, she is dependent on others for everything. "We are the small people that no one looks at," she said. "The state doesn't even look at us or take us into consideration."