Israeli Settlers Say They'll Keep Building

Israeli authorities demolished an illegal Jewish settlement outpost Thursday in the occupied West Bank, where Palestinians hope to have their future state. The action came just days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu returned from a visit to Washington, where he heard an appeal from President Obama for a halt to settlement expansion.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's go next to the Middle East, where Israel demolished the homes of Jewish settlers yesterday. The outpost was in the occupied West Bank. The action came just days after President Obama asked Israel's new prime minister to stop the expansion of settlements.

Here's NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: After the Israeli police had finished, tangled aluminum siding and concrete rubble was all that was left of what had been seven homes and a synagogue built illegally in the outpost of Maoz Esther.

(Soundbite of sawing)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: By the early afternoon, holding saws and drills, settlers and their supporters, including a member or the Israeli Knesset, were defiantly rebuilding. Michael Ben-Ari represents the National Union Party, which is part of Prime Minister Netanyahus's largely right-wing coalition.

Dr. MICHAEL BEN-ARI (National Union Party): (Through translator) We have to build here anew. See, I have my tools here in my hand. These Jews are fighting for their land, and tonight this family will sleep in this home again.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The police were nowhere to be seen and the settlers promised to recruit even more families to live there. Aria Davies(ph) came to help rebuild from a settlement near the West Bank city of Hebron.

Mr. ARIA DAVIES (Volunteer): Israel is ours and it will stay ours. We're going to keep on and build more and more and more.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Israel does not formally recognize so-called outposts, which are effectively new suburbs of existing settlements. But Israel does acknowledge that there are around 100 of them in the West Bank that are home to several thousand Jews. There are occasional attempts to tear some of them down, but by and large the authorities have turned a blind eye to them.

But after returning from Washington, officials here say Netanyahu has agreed to take down several outposts in the coming weeks in a move that is being interpreted here as a gesture to President Obama.

According to critics, it's an empty one. They say dismantling a tiny outpost like Maoz Esther is purely cosmetic, and Netanyahu has no intention of evacuating larger outposts, some of which have running water, electricity, and are home to hundreds of people.

Hagit Ofran is with the Israeli anti-occupation group Peace Now.

Ms. HAGIT OFRAN (Director, Settlement Watch Program, Peace Now): Governments of Israel and I think this one in particular is an expert in fooling the Americans and fooling the Israeli public.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Still, any action against the settlers could carry a high political price for Netanyahu. When he was last prime minister in the late 1990s, he yielded to U.S. pressure and gave up Israeli control over part of the West Bank city of Hebron, a settler stronghold.

The Israeli right turned against him and his coalition government collapsed. This time around, Netanyahu is in a similar position. Some of his coalition partners are from the far right. Baruch Marzel is a settler leader from Hebron who also came to help Maoz Esther rebuild.

Mr. BARUCH MARZEL (Jewish National Front): Netanyahu is betraying his voters. He's betraying everything he promised in the elections. And last time he did it in Hebron, and we took him down. If it'll continue here, we'll take him down again.

(Soundbite of car traffic)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As the day ended, more cars were arriving at the outpost and families were busy organizing their scattered belongings so that they could stay the night.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Maoz Esther.

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