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Occupation magazine - Activism

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Palestinian Protesters Set Up Camp in West Bank
The New York Times

AL-AZARIYA, West Bank It was hardly the most visible place to stage an anti-Obama protest, on a stony hillside on the edge of this West Bank town just east of Jerusalem. But for the Palestinians, it was highly symbolic.

As President Obama landed after midday on Wednesday and was heading by helicopter to Jerusalem for his meetings with Israeli leaders, scores of Palestinian activists hiked up to a part of the hotly contested area known as E1, where Israel has plans for new settlement housing, and pitched 15 tents.

They declared it a new neighborhood of the village of Bab al-Shams, or Gate of the Sun, a reference to the first wildcat encampment that was set up by grass-roots activists on an opposite hilltop in January. The Israeli police evicted the protesters two days later.

Then, adopting a tactic more commonly associated with Jewish settlers, the activists were protesting an Israeli announcement that it was moving forward with zoning and housing plans for the strategic area, stirring international outrage.

This time, the popular anger was mainly directed against Mr. Obama.

Obama: Another 4 years of Aipac policies? read one poster stuck to the side of a tent, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the most influential pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington.

Obama: You promised hope and change, you gave us colonies and apartheid, read another.

A huge Palestinian flag had been raised on a pole on the edge of the hill overlooking the large urban settlement of Maale Adumim, home to tens of thousands of Israelis in the occupied West Bank.

This is a message to Obama that he is not welcome unless he supports the rights of the Palestinian people, said Muhammad Khatib, a leader in the Palestinian Popular Struggle Coordination Committee and a veteran of anti-Israeli protest, from the West Bank village of Bilin. The United States is doing nothing to stop settlement building.

The Palestinians and their many international supporters argue that Israeli construction in E1, in territory that Israel captured from Jordan in the 1967 war, would create a wedge of Israeli settlement between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, hampering the future chances of a contiguous and viable Palestinian state.

Israel says that the issues of borders and settlements must be decided in negotiations, but that the Palestinians have set unacceptable preconditions for resuming peace talks.

About four hours after the activists pitched their tents, Israeli police and border police officers drove up in two rough-terrain vehicles and served them papers, in Hebrew and with a map attached, declaring all of E1 a closed security zone for the next two weeks and prohibiting all unauthorized people from entering the area or staying there. The order stipulated that police and security forces would be allowed to remove anyone violating the closure and to use reasonable force to that end.

After handing the papers to Mr. Khatib, the police left. The activists remained. Some began to chop firewood, preparing against the chill of night.

We are staying, said one, Bassam Bahr, who introduced himself as the lawyer of Bab al-Shams.

That raised the next question: Would the Israeli security forces come to evacuate the activists while Mr. Obama remained in the area, risking unpleasant images in the news media, or wait until Mr. Obama left for Jordan on Friday?

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