E-1/GAZA, Palestine: Palestinians from villages in the occupied West Bank near Jerusalem pitched tents Friday on land Israel has earmarked for a new urban settlement, looking to preserve the area for an independent Palestinian state.
Scores of Palestinians erected about 20 large, steel-framed tents on a hillside in an area known as E-1, a geographically sensitive area where Israel announced last month it would build homes for hundreds of settlers.
“We are setting up a Palestinian village here where people will stay permanently in order to protect this Palestinian land,” said Mohammad Khatib, one of the organizers of the tent village.
The tents were erected in an area close to established Palestinian villages that lie on slopes northeast of Jerusalem and overlook the descent to the Dead Sea.
Palestinians named their encampment “Bab al-Shams,” which means “Door to the Sun” in Arabic.
“This is not a symbolic act, but comes in response to Israeli settlement building and we are sending a message to the international community that urgent action must be taken against Israel’s settlement construction,” Khatib said.
Although there was no immediate response from the Israeli authorities, police and soldiers in the past have moved quickly to shut down any such spontaneous Palestinian camps.
International powers view all settlement building in areas occupied by Israel in the 1967 war as detrimental to securing a peace deal.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has come in for heavy criticism for a wave of recently announced settlement building in areas occupied by Israel in the war.
However, his pledge last November to build on E-1 caused an especially loud outcry, with European diplomats warning that it could kill off any hope of creating a contiguous Palestinian state.
The site covers almost 12 square kilometers and is seen as particularly important because it not only juts into the narrow “waist” of the West Bank, but also backs onto East Jerusalem, where Palestinians want to establish their capital.
Israeli building in E-1 would create a linked-up stretch of Jewish neighborhoods in the West Bank between Pisgat Zeev on the outskirts of Jerusalem, and Maale Adumim, an urban settlement of some 30,000 Israelis.
For years Israel froze building in E1, which currently houses only a police headquarters, after coming under pressure from then-U.S. President George W. Bush.
But Netanyahu announced a wave of settlements, including in E-1, after the Palestinians won de-facto statehood recognition at the U.N. last year.
Elsewhere, Israeli army gunfire killed one Palestinian and wounded another in the northern Gaza Strip on Friday, a spokesman for the territory’s emergency services said.
The two men, one a 20-year-old farmer, were hit by live fire east of Jabaliya and near the Israeli border.
The fatality is the third Palestinian killed by Israeli forces since a truce ended eight days of war between Israel and Hamas last year.