Photostory: A day in Ma’ale Adumim

15 February 2008

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It is only a fifteen minute bus ride from Jerusalem to the Ma’ale Adumim settlement. After entering through guarded gates, one’s first impression is of a Miami-style suburb. The town at noon seems almost abandoned because the major part of Ma’ale Adumim residents head off to work in Jerusalem during the day.

But once reaching the fence that surrounds Ma’ale Adumim, an odd feeling begins to creep over oneself. This neatly planned concrete patchwork seems totally out of place in the surrounding arid Palestinian landscape. Leaving the city behind by a rare gap in the fence, another reality instantly emerges. Just outside the fence, on the edge of the hill, a Bedouin shepherd and his son are herding their flock of sheep. The contrast between the two worlds could not be more striking.

Founded in 1975 by a small group of settlers, Ma’ale Adumim is now one of Israel’s biggest settlements. Located in the central West Bank, the entire area of Ma’ale Adumim, including currently built-up areas and areas reserved for expansion, occupy a startling one percent of the total territory of the West Bank. Ma’ale Adumim has clearly grown into a major Israeli town, and is now home to some 35,000 residents. While its population consists of a mix of religious and secular Jews, it remains a Jewish-only town.

Despite all promises made by Israel during ongoing peace talks to halt settlement construction, Ma’ale Adumim is booming, with a population growth rate of 5.3 percent in 2006.

Settlements built on Palestinian territory occupied by Israel during and after the 1967 War are explicitly illegal under international law. Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention clearly states that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” So the presence of some 470,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is undoubtedly a violation of the Geneva Convention. Furthermore, the issue of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory continues to obstruct attempts to reach a just and lasting peace.

Although Ma’ale Adumim looks like a sleepy suburb, the settlement is of great strategic value to Israel because of its location east of Jerusalem. Israel has a long-term plan to connect the Ma’ale Adumim settlement with the ring of Israeli settlements surrounding East Jerusalem, also occupied in 1967, in an effort to undermine Palestinian claims to this part of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

This so-called E1 plan aims to fill the gap between Ma’ale Adumim and the settlements in East Jerusalem with new settlement housing units, thereby creating territorial continuity on the ground. This in turn will create a gateway to the Jordan Valley, another region that Israel considers to be of major strategic importance.

In addition, the connection of Ma’ale Adumim with the settlements in East Jerusalem, together with the bypass roads joining them, and the wall surrounding them will hamper the growth of any Palestinian town or neighborhood located in, or in the vicinity of Jerusalem and will ensure Israel’s hold over the city. For this reason, all leading Israeli politicians have expressed their intention to keep Ma’ale Adumim, together with other large settlement blocs, under Israeli sovereignty regardless of any final status negotiation with the Palestinians.

But this stand gravely jeopardizes the very idea of a future Palestinian state, because it blocks territorial contiguity between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, making Palestine look like a scattered collection of homelands separated by Israeli settlements and bypass roads, and therefore non-viable as an independent, sovereign state.

Toon Lambrechts is a photographer currently working with the Palestine Monitor in Ramallah. This article was originally published by Palestine Monitor.

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