GEVA BINYAMIN, West Bank (Reuters) - Mechanical diggers tore into the rocky ground at a Jewish settlement on Tuesday where mostly Palestinian crew prepared foundations for 24 homes after Israel’s partial building freeze ended.
“We got to work this morning, we are just doing our job,” said the site’s foreman, a Palestinian who declined to give his name.
Low-rise apartments were being built behind a steel safety wall at Geva Binyamin, a settlement of 1,300 families that sits on a hilltop overlooking nearby Palestinian villages and other Israeli enclaves in the occupied West Bank.
Work got under way after Israel’s limited moratorium on housing starts in West Bank settlements expired on Monday. Palestinian leaders have threatened to quit U.S.-brokered peace talks unless a freeze is reinstated.
Palestinians regard the enclaves as hated symbols of Israeli occupation that could deny them a viable state. But for thousands of Palestinian workers, settlements also mean food on the table.
Palestinian officials say some 25,000 Palestinians are employed in settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel captured from Jordan in a 1967 war.
Fewer than a dozen builders and surveyors, most of them Palestinians, were at work at Geva Binyamin, 12 km (eight miles) north of Jerusalem, preparing the plot for the foundations of the complex that will join other red-roofed apartment buildings lining the street.
The Palestinian Authority has told Palestinians to quit their jobs in settlements by the end of a year as part of its commercial boycott of the enclaves, but compliance could be patchy due to a lack of alternative employment in the West Bank.
In the West Bank village of Hussan near Bethlehem, a Palestinian builder, who identified himself only as, Ali, spoke of new work opportunities rather than politics when asked about the expiration of Israel’s moratorium.
“What difference does it make? We have lived with Israelis and we will have to live together in the future. I‘m pleased that I will be able to make a living,” Ali said.
Nearly 500,000 Jews live in over 100 settlements established across the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Some 2.5 million Palestinians live in the same areas.
The World Court deems settlements illegal but Israel disputes this.