BETHLEHEM (Ma'an) -- Hundreds of Palestinian and international activists erected a village encampment in the Jordan Valley on Friday in protest against continued Israeli settlement activities and confiscation of Palestinian lands.
The protest village of "Ein Hajla" was erected on the site of an abandoned village on lands belonging to the Greek Orthodox monastery of Deir Hajla in the eastern West Bank just north of the Dead Sea, in an area surrounded by numerous illegal Israeli settlements.
Following the protesters' decision to set up an encampment at the site, Israeli forces surrounded the area.
A statement released by the Popular Struggle Coordination Committee said that the move is part of the fight "against the Israeli occupation's plan to take over and annex the Jordan Valley," adding that it was "a popular act against Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people and the constant Judaization of the land."
The statement further stressed that the village is in protest of ongoing plans supported by Israeli officials in the ongoing US-sponsored negotiations which could potentially allow Israel to annex and keep military forces in the occupied West Bank as part of any future peace deal.
"We the participants announce that we hold tight to our right to all occupied Palestinian lands. We refuse Kerry's Plan that will establish a disfigured Palestinian state and (recognize) the Israeli entity as a Jewish State," it read.
The statement also highlighted that the area itself is surrounded by lands that have been take over by Israeli settlers and a local Israeli military base, which has confiscated lands from the Deir Hajla monastery.
Lawmaker Mustafa Barghouthi said that hundreds of young people from all over the West Bank came to the village as part of the "Salt of the Earth" campaign to defend the land and its homes.
Barghouthi said that the village aims to preserve the lands and to resist the Israeli military presence there, adding that participants managed to reach the area despite the several checkpoints surrounding it.
The statement highlighted that the village itself was named after the original Canaanite village in the same area, while the name of the campaign comes from the verse of Matthew 13:5 of the New Testament in the Bible.
The verse reads in part, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?"
The encampment in Ein Hajla follows similar efforts by Palestinian protesters in the encampments of Bab al-Shams and Ahfad Younis in early 2013.
The two villages were set near Eizariya just east of Jerusalem in a strategic area that Israeli refers to as E1 and has previously threatened to build more settlements on.
Israeli forces eventually attacked both encampments and forcibly removed the protesters.
Jewish settlers frequently raid Palestinian lands and set up illegal outposts across the West Bank, usually uninhibited by Israeli authorities and often supported by Israeli military forces. These outposts are often chosen for their strategic locations between Palestinian villages and atop hills or major roads.
Israeli forces often provide security for the settlers, confiscating nearby Palestinian lands and expanding military presence.
Many of these outposts are eventually developed into permanent settlements, and today nearly 500,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements built across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The internationally recognized Palestinian territories of which the West Bank and East Jerusalem form a part have been occupied by the Israeli military since 1967.