World Bulletin/News Desk
The mechanical diggers start work soon after dawn, cutting through a leafy village on the outskirts of Jerusalem to build a six-lane highway that has become the latest focal point of Arab-Israeli discontent.
The road leads directly to Jewish settlements, built on occupied land around the foothills of Bethlehem. When finished, it will allow the settlers to speed down to Israel's thriving coastal plains, unhindered by traffic lights or roundabouts.
Their gain is coming at the expense of Beit Safafa, home to some 10,000 people.
"Ever since the Israelis arrived, all they have done is take land away from the village. Now they are cutting it in two with their road," said 38-year-old Ala Salman, whose house rattles with the roar of diggers tearing up the nearby ground.
"Their aim is to force us all away."
Unlike some nearby Arab villages, most of Beit Safafa's residents stayed put during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, but their community was split in two under the 1949 armistice, with a fence built to divide the Jordanian and Israeli halves.
After the 1967 war, the village was re-united. Swathes of surrounding agricultural land were taken for Jewish settlements and industrial estates, but the village itself remained largely intact, its neat stone houses interspersed by flowery meadows and olive groves.
When the bulldozers arrived in November, activists went straight to court, saying they had never received detailed plans and arguing that the road broke safety norms by coming within less than 10 metres (32 feet) of some of the homes.
They lost the initial verdict and have appealed.
Locals are also staging regular protests, looking to block access to another major road that flanks Beit Safafa on its way to the adjacent urban settlement of Gilo. On Friday, eight protesters were detained after their latest demonstration.
"Beit Safafa was a very peaceful place. We have not made any trouble. But because we are Arabs, they think they can do what they like to us," said Salman, an artisan who earns his living by making Jewish ornaments in a nearby workshop.
In all, 1,000 people in the village will be left isolated on the wrong side of the highway.
Promises by city authorities to build two or three road bridges to connect them to the rest of their community bring little cheer. Locals say it will only lead to more land confiscation, more tarmac and less greenery.
Instead, they want the entire 1.6 km (one mile) stretch of road covered by a tunnel. "Unfortunately we cannot cancel the road, but we are trying to limit the damage," said Nisreen Alyan, a lawyer and Beit Safafa resident.
Villagers point to two stretches of the same highway that have already been completed and were concealed inside tunnels when they neared Jewish neighbourhoods.
Deputy mayor Tsur says the city has promised to cover 180 metres of the new road, but that further tunnelling would not be possible because it would require fresh planning permission, which would take years to complete.Last Mod: 02 Mart 2013, 16:44