Over 100 people from Ateret and N’veh Tzuf – Jewish communities in the central Binyamin area (southern Samaria) – have built a stone citadel in the area, in protest of a plan to take their land for a road to a new Palestinian Authority city.
The planned four-lane north-south highway presents several threats to the Jewish settlement enterprise – including mainly the linking of two major PA settlement blocs and the strengthening of the viability of a PA state. In addition, it further deepens the detachment between eastern and western Binyamin.
Hundreds of people took part in a protest march on Friday, demanding that the lands designated for the growth of N’veh Tzuf (Halamish) and Ateret not be taken from them.
On Saturday night, many of them arrived at the location of the planned intersection between the Arab highway and the current Jewish route 465, and began building a Jewish presence. “It is specifically not an outpost,” said Yishai, one of the organizers. “Rather, we are building a large citadel – a symbol of sovereignty. We fear that Jewish sovereignty will be lost in this area if the plans continue for the Arab city and the confiscation of our lands.”
Work on the new city, named Rawabi (Arabic for 'Hills'), has been underway at a frenzied pace – “24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Yishai told Israel National News. “They have shaved away the mountains from every angle, and have now begun work on a road, and placing infrastructures. We have many questions, regarding security, sewage, transportation, and much more - but very few answers.”
Yishai said that in actuality, the new highway is planned to be dug under the current Route 465 – “and this will not involve any confiscation of land, as far as we know. However, they say that there are some technical difficulties, and that temporarily, they will have to build another road that will directly intersect ours, and that this will require the confiscation of some three kilometers’ worth. I cannot explain why this is, but I can tell you that it will be a very dangerous blow to our towns and to the entire Jewish settlement enterprise in this area.”
A large tent was first built at the site of the citadel, and a wooden structure is planned for the end of the week. “Last night, a few policemen came and declared the area a closed military zone, and asked us to leave. We moved 100 meters to the side, and when they left, we came back. Though there are only a few of us here right now, several dozen more will come later this afternoon [Sunday] for a Torah lecture class given by Rabbi Blass of N’vei Tzuf, followed by a campfire sing-along.”
“We’re not planning to turn this site into a settlement outpost,” Yishai said, “but rather a center for information and advocacy. It is built alongside the Lion Formation – a natural rock formation along the highway that looks like a large lion, and which happens to be very close to the spot where Judah the Maccabee is said to have been killed in battle with the Syrian Greeks [some 2,150 years ago]. In general, this is the area where many of the Hasmonean battles took place – and this is the area that they want to give away… It is important for local residents, from Beit El, Ofrah, and Shilo, to use this highway to go west to central Israel, and not always take the Ariel highway [to the north]."
Residents say they are waging the struggle on their own, and that officials from the Binyamin Regional Council have not been helpful. Avi Roeh, Mayor of the Binyamin Regional Council, was unavailable for comment Sunday afternoon.