Smoke billowed Thursday from a clattering yellow machine as it pounded the earth, digging the foun dations for 100 new houses in this Golan Heights town.
As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured the Golan to mark the 30th anniversary of its capture by Israel, the new concrete foundations were a tangible sign of what many Israelis believe - that peace with Syria is not on the horizon.
In his speech at a festive celebration, Netanyahu told thousands of joyous settlers that the Golan - captured from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed in 1981 - was ruled by Jews during certain periods of ancient Israel and would be ruled by Jews in the future.
“We are marching in the footsteps of our forefathers, who led a vibrant life here,” he said, to rousing cheers. “In our time, we have turned the Golan again into part of our lives. The future of the Golan is connected to the future of the state (of Israel).”
The crowd booed opposition leader Ehud Barak, who spoke of conceding at least part of the Golan to Syria.
“Please, listen,” he said. “I didn’t come to talk about a deluxe peace without concessions. … Whoever tells you such a thing (exists) is living on slogans.”
Talks between Israel and Syria have been on indefinite hold for more than a year, and with prospects increasingly dim of a Golan pullout anytime soon, there is a surge of new building and investment here.
In Katzrin, which with a population of 7,000 is the Golan’s largest town, the Netanyahu government recently approved construction of 300 new homes, Katzrin spokesman Shai Porat said Thursday. Ground-breaking is underway for the first 100.
The government also has agreed to move an army training base to allow construction of 500 more houses, and established a $5,600 loan-grant package for people who move to the Golan.
After years of only token government support of excavations of ancient Katzrin, the Netanyahu government is investing $850,000 to set up a working village that recreates life here 1,500 years ago, Porat said. Plans are in the works for a new meat-packing factory and a teachers’ training school.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.