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Israel exploits nature, archaeology for settlement expansion

Israeli authorities are exploiting archeological sites and nature reserves to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
The shadows of ultra-Orthodox Jewish men are cast on the ground as they arrive to Samuel's Tomb on the outskirts of Jerusalem on May 12, 2010. Thousands of Jews marked the anniversary of biblical prophet Samuel's death. AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA (Photo credit should read MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
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Act One: Early morning in November. Dozens of people have congregated outside the doors of the Interior Ministry in Jerusalem. Security guards at the entrance to the building, which lies in the heart of the city’s western half, are surprised by the large numbers of Palestinians who want to participate in the Regional Planning and Construction Committee’s meeting. Only lawyers are allowed into the hall, where opposition to the creation of the “Slopes of Mount Scopus National Park” on the outskirts of the villages of Issawiya and a-Tur will be discussed. A veteran activist from Issawiya is demanding that the meeting be postponed until he and his friends are allowed access to the room, where the future of their lands will be decided. A police officer warns the man that he will be kept out if he doesn’t shut up.

The first person to speak is a representative of the Israeli Nature and Parks Authority, which initiated the project. He surprises all the attendees by telling them that his superior, Minister of Environmental Protection Amir Peretz, instructed him to request that the discussion be halted, now that he has been convinced that there is nothing of natural value in the region that is particularly sensitive. Though the minister’s position had been released earlier, it isn’t every day that the person behind the initiative asks to freeze his own plan. For the residents, who were eventually allowed access to the hall, it seemed for just a moment as if this was the end of the national park project, which would have prevented the expansion of the two Palestinian neighborhoods northeast of the city. But their hopes were gradually dashed. Most of the motions to oppose were rejected, and shortly before midnight, after 10 hours of debate, representatives of the Ministry of the Interior could notify Minister Gideon Sa’ar that the plan was on its way to be implemented. One hand erects ugly concrete walls around Jerusalem, while the other hand surrounds Palestinian neighborhoods with green parks. A few days earlier the prime minister had signed the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners. Now the minister of the interior was signing a plan to compensate the enraged right wing.

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