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Israeli Plan to Annex Lands East of Jerusalem Stokes Palestinian Anger


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angered many Palestinians, in his recent speech, when he proclaimed Israel's intentions to keep Jerusalem as the united capital of the Jewish state. The Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city as the capital of their own future state, but Israeli plans to annex lands east of the city and expand settlements in the occupied West Bank, could preempt that possibility.

Shepherd Mohamad Mussa Mashhur lives on a dry, barren hilltop, within a few meters of power lines. However, a kerosene lamp is what his family depends on for light.

Mashhur says the Israelis came to him and offered him water, electricity and telephone service if he let them put a road by his house. But he said he did not want any of that. He says he does not want a road built through his property.

Mashhur is among Palestinian residents who live on the fringes of a swathe of land to the east of Jerusalem that Israel plans to develop. The Israeli development plan - known as E-1 - seeks to link Jerusalem to Maale Adumim, Israel's largest settlement in the West Bank, by pushing Arab communities away from the connecting road.

With its dry rocky hills, much of this swathe of land resembles a moonscape. Its terrain is barren and unfit for farming, many of its steep jagged hillsides unfit for building.

Yet its political and religious value is such that for years, Israel has been determined to develop it and the Palestinians have been determined not to give it up.

"Natural rights of Jews"

Israel's aim is to protect the contiguity of Jerusalem. Backers of the plan say illegal building by Palestinians threatens to cut off the link between Jerusalem and the settlements including Maale Adumim.

Author Nadav Shragai, a proponent of E-1, says the plan's aim is to guarantee Israelis access to West Bank settlements and to stop Arabs from building in areas east of Jerusalem.

Shragai says the construction will reinforce the Palestinians' demand to create a division of Jerusalem - a division he opposes. He says the Palestinians also look at Jerusalem as a metropolis that belongs to them.

Shragai disputes the Palestinians' claims to the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. In addition to practical issues, Shragai says there is another more compelling cultural reason for Israelis to claim this land.

Shragai points to the issue of principles and values. He says it has been more than 60 years since the creation of the State of Israel. He says Jews are coming back after a worldwide exile of 2,000 years.

For Shragai and other proponents of the plan, the drive to expand to points east is one largely based on religious values and the belief that God gave these lands to the Hebrew people.

Shragai says these are strongly significant places, from the point of view of the history of the biblical land of Israel. He says it is true that there is another population there and he says he and other Israelis do not ignore it. Aside from the practical issue, he says the plan is implementation of what he believes is a natural right of the Jews to return to Israel.

My land, not yours

For Mashhur, this means a separation barrier may soon be built next to his home, cutting him off from the new Jewish communities.

Like many Palestinians, Mashhur was angered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent speech. The Israeli leader called for Palestinians to accept Israel as a nation state for the Jewish people, in exchange for allowing a Palestinian state. Mashhur says he can never make that concession. Religion for him, too, is a powerful motive.

Mashhur says this land is his grandfathers' land. He was born on this land. He lives on this land. He says this land is Islamic land and he says he will is not going to let non-believers have it. He says it is his.

Annexation

He says Israeli companies have for years offered him substantial sums of money to use his land. He says he has turned all offers down.

He says the Israelis have tried more forceful methods to get him to move.

He walks through heaps and mazes of broken concrete and twisted metal. It is what is left of his earlier home, which Israel declared illegal and bulldozed in 1987. Now, the ruins are a pen for his animals.

In the distance, new homes go up in another West Bank Jewish settlement. Israel says it will not prevent settlers from building new homes to house a naturally growing population.

Although Jewish communities surround him, Mashhur says this to Mr. Netanyahu.

He, says he is not going to recognize Israel in Palestine - not just in Palestine but at all. Mashhur says the problem, as he sees it, is that Jewish immigrants came with much force and much support from outside. He says Palestinians are the weaker side. He says his people have not been able to get support from anyone.

Mashhur takes no comfort in U.S. President Barack Obama's ongoing calls for Israel to freeze settlements.

He waits for the wall to go up.

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