Bulldozers blast trail for new settlement

Israel uses army to ensure that no Palestinians protest near constructi on site

At 3pm, the yellow bulldozer started scraping away earth and rock on the northern flank of Har Homa, the pine-covered hill where the Israeli government is building a Jewish settlement to secure its control over Jerusalem.

The government had given the impression that it would start gently, by sending in teams of surveyors.

Instead four bulldozers, surrounded by soldiers and police, with a military helicopter clattering overhead, started cutting an access road through the brown earth beside the football field of the Palestinian village of Zur Bahir.

In a few weeks, Israeli contractors will have stripped Har Homa, known to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Jhneim, of its trees, which make the hill look like a long, green island stretching between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. When the building project is complete, Har Homa will become home to some 27,000 Jews in 6,500 apartments, isolating Palestinian districts in Jerusalem from those outside.

A mile away, and out of sight of where Israeli bulldozers were starting to work on the northern end of Har Homa, Faisal Husseini, the Palestinian leader in Jerusalem, had established a small camp of six tents beside a half-built house on a neighbouring hill from which he was orchestrating protests. "We are trying to say to Israel that the peace process is dying," he told a crowd of reporters and supporters who had clambered up the hillside through driving rain to stand outside his tent.

Israel had originally said it wanted Mr Husseini off the hill by morning and if he did not go its forces would remove him. But, perhaps reflecting that such a confrontation, conducted before a dozen television cameras, could only benefit Mr Husseini, the dozen Israeli troops near his tent, huddled in a house to keep out of the rain, made no effort to dislodge him. Nevertheless, Mr Husseini said: "They are pushing us from being officials and negotiators to becoming [political] activists."

Overnight, Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, had refused to meet Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli leader, to discuss concessions to the Palestinians, such as opening of a port and airport at Gaza, as a quid pro quo for the building of the settlement at Har Homa.

"No trade," said Abu Alaa, a chief Palestinian negotiator, who had joined Mr Husseini in his tent. He said the concessions Israel was now offering it had already agreed to make as part of the interim peace agreement signed in 1995. Salah al-Taamari, the most important political leader in Bethlehem, said it would be difficult for Mr Arafat to meet Mr Netanyahu now, because he was "so arrogant, so rude, so racist".

Despite the verbal clashes, both Israelis and Palestinians were being restrained on the ground. Although there were reports of Israeli troops massing around Har Homa yesterday morning, they were difficult to find on the ground. Close to the most likely confrontation point there were only about 200 soldiers. As night fell, Palestinian boys from the nearby Christian town of Beit Sahour started throwing stones at Israeli troops on the road to Har Homa but the soldiers did not respond.

The ground-breaking by the Israeli bulldozers was out of sight of the Palestinian towns to the south. Three Israeli Arabs trying to demonstrate were hit by rifle butts, but otherwise there was little violence.

Reasons for this restraint include the rain and the belief that confrontation over Har Homa will go on for a long time. But the biggest motive is that both sides are conscious the world is watching. Palestinians feel that Israel is isolated as never before. They think that if Palestinians were seen to start violence then they might forfeit international sympathy.

Mr Netanyahu yesterday evening accused Mr Arafat of aiding potential bombers by releasing a senior Hamas leader. Mr Arafat, for his part, has ordered Palestinian hospitals to get beds ready, though he probably wants to squeeze the maximum political advantage out of the crisis over Har Homa without provoking a confrontation which he would be unable to control.

At the same time there are so many points of friction between Israelis and Palestinians on the West Bank that as the political temperature rises it will probably be impossible to avoid a clash leading to heavy casualties.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Representative

£15500 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This international company deve...

Recruitment Genius: Field Service Engineer - Basingstoke / Reading Area

£16000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established name in IT Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Transportation Contracting Manager

£33000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A global player and world leade...

Recruitment Genius: Experienced PPC Search Marketing Executive

£19000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue