No let-up to Jewish building projects

SPEAKING over the thunder of bulldozers, Ismael, the Palestinian foreman at the West Bank's biggest Jewish settlement, said yesterday he had received no orders to stop his men working.

'This is a normal day. Look around you,' he said, pointing across the steep valley where giant cutters were slicing into the hillside, preparing the ground for more than 1,000 new Jewish homes. The Mount of Olives, in the midde distance, was obscured by a cloud of white dust.

If James Baker, the US Secretary of State, wants any proof during his visit to Israel that Jewish settlement is continuing apace, he need only take a 10-minute drive from Jerusalem to Maale Adummim. The settlement is technically in the occupied West Bank, but it is growing so fast that it almost adjoins Jerusalem.

Sprawling across the hilltops on the edge of the Judaean desert, it must be the fastest-growing suburb in the world. Cranes swing confidently through the sky, while below, concrete blocks pile up relentlessly to form row upon row of new 'units' - as the settlers' lego-like homes are called.

Yesterday the Israeli cabinet confirmed a decision taken by the Housing Ministry last week to freeze all new building contracts in the West Bank and Gaza while the country's building needs and settlement policy are assessed. The decision was designed to please Mr Baker and ease the way to the release of dollars 10bn in US loan guarantees. But the evidence on the ground is that the freeze has had no effect. It will take a strong arm to pull the stop button on Maale Adummim.

The foreman - who wished only to be known as Ismael - said all the men who worked under him were Palestinians. He saw no irony in the fact that they were helping the Israelis build homes on Palestinian land.

'Yes it is our land. We want our land back. But we have to work. We have to eat to feed our children,' he said. 'If we Palestinians were not doing this then they would get Russians or others to do it for them.' Ismael has six children and lives in the a poor suburb of Arab East Jerusalem.

Ismael said he wanted peace. He hoped that the talks between Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister, and Mr Baker would produce a solution.

'Perhaps the Palestinians will live in these houses eventually,' he said, grinning. Then he added: 'But Israel will never allow it.'

In the contractor's office, the plans for Maale Adummim were laid out neatly on the walls. The settlement already houses 15,000 people in 3,200 units. Under construction are 1,000 new homes which will house about 4,500 people. The master plan for Maale Adummim envisages a city of 50,000 people. The settlement's municipal boundaries spread far out into the West Bank, almost to Jericho, nearly 10 miles away.

Ben Greenberg, the deputy mayor, says that most residents are confident that Maale Adummim will never be 'frozen' because it is inside what Mr Rabin calls 'greater Jerusalem' and will therefore be defined as a 'security settlement' - necessary for Israel's defences. The new Prime Minister has said security settlements will be exempt from a building freeze, but he has yet to clarify which are 'security settlements' - and this will be a point at issue with Mr Baker today. In the past, the US has called for a total building freeze, but is showing signs of new flexibility.

'We hope we will still be able to achieve our objective of doubling the population in four to five years,' said Mr Greenberg, a lawyer, who along with the majority of the settlement's population, voted for the defeated Likud party in the June election.

'We did not give Rabin a blank cheque to dismantle 25 years of building,' Mr Greenberg said. 'Every city has to grow. We have to have new schools, roads and hospitals. If they try to stop us we will use every legal means to fight it.'

Leading article, page 20

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Service Manager - Franchised Dealership

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative / Forklift Driver

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Through a combination of excell...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company are looking for a ...

Recruitment Genius: Service Plan Champion

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a Service Plan Champi...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific