‘Tonight, we are returning this decree to the trash bin'

Likud MK Dannon asks settlers' forgiveness for treatment like "second class citizens," as building freeze ends

311_Swedish evangelicals (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
311_Swedish evangelicals
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
As the sun set on a dirt field at the edge of the Revava settlement in Samaria on Sunday, thousands of right-wing activists counted down the remaining seconds of the freeze that temporarily put a halt to the construction of 2,066 Jewish housing units across the West Bank.
“Three, two, one, the moratorium has ended on the 18th of Tishrei,” MK Danny Danon (Likud) yelled out as he stood on a large outdoor stage that had been set up for the event.
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On a white screen behind him, the large black numbers of a digital clock flashed down to zero. At that instant, the settlement supporters from Israel and abroad burst into loud applause, as activists on stage and in the audience released hundreds of balloons into the air.
Yvonne Biork, a Pentecostal Evangelical from Sweden, blew a large shofar.
“We love Israel,” yelled out Biork, who came to the rally with a group of female Pentecostals.
They wore flowing white skirts tied at the waist with gold sashes and blue vests with gold stars of David.
“God is with you,” she said.
Technically the freeze ended at midnight, but the World Likud, which organized the Revava event, marked the end of the 10-month moratorium according to the Hebrew calendar, by which the day ends at sundown.“Tonight, we are returning this decree to the trash bin of history,” Danon said.
“Starting tomorrow morning, we will resume building,” said Danon. “I want to send a message to [US President Barack] Obama. We have a lot of respect for the American president and for the American people, but we ask you to respect our democracy and the rights of the Jewish people to build their homes in the Land of Israel.”
With its live music and the large waving flags brought by many participants, including the national flags of Israel, China, the US and Canada, Sunday afternoon’s event seemed like an outdoor party.
But settlers leaders and MKs who spoke at the rally struck a somber note and reminded the participants that the settlement enterprise was still in danger.
“We are not celebrating,” said Benny Katzover, who heads the Samaria Citizens’ Committee. “We are not sure what the next two hours will bring, let alone the next two days. A great fear fills my heart.”
Even as the last hours of the freeze ticked away, the media speculated that it might be extended.
The Citizens’ Committee is so concerned about this possibility that it has created a plan that includes a hunger strike to combat any extension.
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) said that at midnight, the government would be tested to see if it plans to follow in the path of former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who gave away Gaza, or it is intends to keep to the platform of the Likud Party.
“We won’t support any diplomatic process that destroys the Zionist enterprise in Judea and Samaria,” said Hotovely.
She warned that the negotiations for a two-state solution and not the moratorium was the true danger to the State of Israel and the settlement movement.
“What is the point of building a thousand more homes if in two months the prime minister intends to give up parts of Judea and Samaria? What is it worth if a Palestinian state is created?” Hotovely asked.
She said she opposed such a Palestinian state and that she did not believe the Likud had been voted into power to bring about its creation.
“The Likud was chosen to lead the government because of its commitment to guard the land,” she said.
Samaria Regional Council head Gershon Mesika said he wanted to strengthen Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu so that he could withstand both the domestic and international pressure to extend the moratorium.
Mesika also asked Netanyahu to put Defense Minister Ehud Barak “in his place” and to keep him from harassing settlers.
MK Ayoub Kara (Likud) said he did not believe the moratorium has advanced the cause of peace on either side.
The rally was the third event of the day for the settler leaders and right-wing parliamentarians. They also stopped in the nearby settlement of Kiryat Netafim, where they brought in a cement mixer and symbolically poured cement onto a small corner of a lot designated for a nursery school. Irrespective of the freeze, the school lacks authorization.
In the morning, settler leaders and the MKs of the Knesset Caucus for the Land of Israel paid a visit to the Kfar Eldad settlement in Gush Etzion, which similarly lacks construction permits and will not be able to build homes on Monday morning.
Seated in a succa outside the home of caucus chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud), they talked about the moratorium’s end over plates of humous and vegetables.
Peace Now has estimated that work on 2,066 housing units has been frozen for the past 10 months, even as construction was allowed to continue on 3,000 others.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 796 housing units were completed in West Bank settlements in the first half of 2010, while the moratorium was in place.
As of June 2010, work was under way on 2,140 units.
Peace Now has also spoken of another 11,000 apartments units that need only local approvals before construction can get under way.
The NGO noted that many of those projects are in settlements that do not have a housing shortage, whereas many settlements in areas that are likely to be retained under any final-status agreement are almost out of approved projects.
It is likely that within a year, some areas of high growth, such as Ma’aleh Adumim and Betar Illit, could be out of permits.
In Kfar Eldad, Dayan said that what was needed now was government authorization of new construction projects so that life in the settlements could return to normal.
Shaul Goldstein, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, said that people were now waiting to see if Netanyahu was serious about renewing building.
“It is our natural right to build here,” he said. “There is no reason to stop building now.”