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Palestinian loses his land, dreams

Published Oct. 1, 2005

From his one-room house, Palestinian Abdel Latif Abu Teir watched bitterly Wednesday as an Israeli bulldozer carved up a hill where he once owned three acres and hoped to build a home for his four children.

Israel expropriated his land in 1991 _ along with dozens more acres belonging to his neighbors _ and this week broke ground for a Jewish neighborhood of 6,500 apartments in disputed East Jerusalem.

Abu Teir and 28 other landowners failed to win a stop-work order from Israel's Supreme Court on Wednesday. But in a small victory, the judges asked the government to explain why it believes the Jews-only housing project does not discriminate against Arabs.

Abu Teir, 33, is not optimistic the court will come to his rescue, saying he expects to spend the rest of his days in the 170-square-foot room he and his family now call home.

"This mountain was our last hope for the future," he said.

For Israelis and Palestinians, the housing project on the rocky slope known to Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneim and to Israelis as Har Homa has become a test of resolve over Jerusalem.

For the Abu Teirs, the start of construction was a personal tragedy, finalizing the loss of the land. Abu Teir, a construction foreman, said he was too upset to go to work.

"My husband is smoking and shouting a lot," said his wife, Raiseh, who raises their four small children.

The family's one-room house is furnished with a double bed, a television and a closet. Two mattresses are spread on the floor at night for the children. A wooden annex serves as a kitchen.

In 1991, Israel expropriated three acres of land owned jointly by Abu Teir and his three brothers.

In all, 463 acres were taken for the project _ about one-fourth from Arabs, many of them residents of Umm Touba, a village on Jerusalem's southern fringe. The rest was taken from Jews who bought the land after Israel captured East Jerusalem and the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East War, or was state-owned land.

There were no violent demonstrations as work on the site continued Wednesday.

As a construction foreman, Abu Teir has been building luxury apartments for the past eight months in downtown Jerusalem, near the Israeli parliament and the Israel Museum. Then he returns to his own meager quarters at night.

"I build for others," he said, "but at the same time I cannot build a decent house for my children."