Settlement Freeze Sparks Massive Protests in Israel

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Israelis gathered in a massive demonstration on Wednesday to protest the recent government freeze on building in Judea and Samaria (The West Bank.)

Many blamed pressure from the Obama administration for the construction freeze.

Unrest in Jerusalem

The freeze on building in Israeli settlements in the biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria is planned to last for 10 months.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says it's intended to coax Palestinians back to the negotiating table, but it has sparked clashes among Israelis instead.

Thousands of Israelis from around the country demonstrated in the streets of Jerusalem against the building freeze. Some believe that the temporary halt to building is only a prelude to uprooting Jewish communities in the future.

They say they won't allow building in Judea and Samaria to be stopped.

"I came here tonight to make a very strong statement. The land is ours. We are not going to be stopped from building in Judea and Samaria," said Sondra Oster Baras of Christian Friends of Israeli Communities.

Baras says she believes that Netanyahu is under intense pressure from Washington, D.C.

"I think Bibi is between a rock and a hard place," she said. "I think particularly the United States is pressuring him and saying 'do you want our help with Iran whose amassing nuclear power right now? Then you're going to have to stop the settlements.'"

Freeze Causes Tough Times for Israeli Communities

Meanwhile, community leaders say the freeze is hitting them hard.

With 37,000 residents Ma'aleh Adumim is the largest Jewish community in Judea and Samaria. Mayor Benny Kashriel says people in his town are suffering.

"There are a lot of people that they already bought the land and they paid for the builders to build their home and right now they cannot build and they lose a lot of money," he said.

Located less than five miles from Jerusalem, Kashriel says his city would remain in Israeli hands in any final agreement with the Palestinians. He says the government is now trying to prevent people who grew up in the town from living there.

"This government is saying 'You gave all your duties to your country, but we'll not give you the right to live in your home," he said.

At Wednesday's demonstration Mayor Shaul Goldstein said Israelis chose a rightwing government in democratic elections. Now Netanyahu has to fulfill his pledges.

"He has to fulfill the agenda he promised before the elections and this is enlarging the settlements, enlarging our communities strengthening them and not freezing them," Goldstein said.

The mayor says Netanyahu must stand up to pressure from the U.S. and Europe.

"We think Netanyahu should stand still and on the contrary he has to tell the world Judea and Samaria is ours, belongs to the Jewish people," Goldstein said. "Jerusalem was never the capital of any other nation but the Jews."

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