A press event for Hebrew-speaking journalists the Gush Etzion and Yesha councils sponsored on Thursday to bring attention to the illegal construction of an Arab city was disrupted by a large group of Palestinians who appeared on the scene.
“If there were no guns there, it could have erupted into serious violence. I think that was a deterrent,” said JNS reporter Josh Hasten, who was on the scene. He noted that about 10 of those in attendance were armed, including a security detail for Minister of Settlements and National Missions Orit Strock of the Religious Zionism Party.
The press event was meant to be a low-key affair with journalists driven in jeeps about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from Kfar Eldad, a small Jewish community on the edge of the Judean Desert, to a spot overlooking the illegal Arab city currently under construction.
The sponsors set up chairs, a tent for shade and snacks, Hasten said. “Then all of a sudden some Arab guy comes up screaming like a madman in Arabic and in broken Hebrew: ‘This is my land. This is my plot. Get out of here. This was my grandfather’s.’
“More and more Arab cars kept coming up. In the day, you had about 50 cars there. There’s a road up to the top of the hill where we were. They blocked the road. And they were filming and screaming at us in Hebrew, Arabic and English, ‘Get off our land. Get out of here. We don’t want you here.’ They were going ballistic,” he said.
What finally defused the situation was the arrival of the IDF toward the end of the event. The soldiers dispersed the Arabs, who gradually returned to their cars and left the area.
“I don’t know who made the call. Three soldiers came to back them off. By that time, we were basically wrapping up,” said Hasten.
Shlomo Ne’eman, who serves as both head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council and the Yesha Council, did his best to deliver his remarks amid the shouting and the honking of horns.
Ne’eman pointed out that the new city violated an agreement signed in 1998 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, in which it was agreed to protect the area as a nature reserve; that no construction would ever take place there.
Ne’eman said that the new Arab city was part of construction that would surround the Israeli enclave of Gush Etzion, a cluster of Israeli towns south of Jerusalem.
“They’re putting in infrastructure. They’re putting in roads. They’re blocking off plots of land. They’re building north to south. It’s clearly meant to cut off Gush Etzion,” Hasten said of the illegal town.
As yet, no one lives in the town, he said.
In a statement following the press event, Ne’eman said that the Gush Etzion Council will launch a campaign to compel the government to enforce the law and halt the illegal building.
“This city is an affront to the Jewish communities in the area, and constitutes barbaric destruction as well as the ultimate loss of governance at the most drastic level,” Ne’eman said.
Strock said at the event, “This is a slap in the face, and we as a government should thwart the construction of this city. Palestinians are also allowed to live, but not within an agreed nature reserve. I promise that I will bring this issue before the government.”
“As they talk to us about strengthening the Palestinian Authority because it is collapsing, look at how much of its budget the P.A. invests in grossly violating the agreements [with Israel],” she added.
“The Palestinian Authority should not be strengthened but rather weakened so that it cannot take these actions against us. I will make sure the government knows about this crime. Every shekel that goes to the Palestinian Authority fails to go to welfare or health but rather to the violation of the agreement. We mustn’t finance this,” Strock said.