Is E1 for real?

Ultimately, what appears to be at issue in E1 is the nature of Ma’aleh Adumim in a future final-status agreement with the Palestinians

Bedouin Camp (photo credit: BAZ RATNER)
Bedouin Camp
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER)
Mussa Jahalin, 22, squints in the midday sun outside his ramshackle tent in the Judean Desert, about halfway between Jerusalem and Jericho. At 11 a.m., a woman walks around the encampment with a few small children, but most of the community are scattered across the surrounding hills, having taken their goats and sheep in search of grazing land.
Jahalin has remained behind because it is his turn to look after the chickens and other livestock in the encampment, and also to take care of the community elders who are no longer able to tend the flocks.
The camp is one of several Bedouin shantytowns located along the side of Route 437, a winding road leading from Pisgat Ze’ev and the Palestinian village of Hizme down to the Jerusalem-Jericho highway. It is also smack in the middle of area E1, the controversial section of the Judean hills that Israel wants to include in the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement block, but which, Palestinians say, would encroach into their future state so far as to de facto make sovereignty impossible.
To Western eyes, the encampment appears to be an insufferable shantytown, without electricity, running water, or any infrastructure at all. Homes are constructed out of discarded tin, wood and cloth, but there is little else to protect people from the elements. When nature calls, residents hike off into the wadi or up the hill to relieve themselves, with only the barest modicum of privacy.
And yet, Jahalin says he has no desire to leave, preferring instead the open space, lack of urban scheduling and a lifestyle that is reminiscent of his ancestors nomadic tradition.
“A while back, the police came and said we were going to have to move, but that they would move us to a better place,” Jahalin tells The Jerusalem Report. “They said they would build a village for us, but that’s not the way we live, or the way we want to live. We aren’t built to live in small, confined spaces.”
Like most of the Bedouin in the area, these residents are part of the Jahalin tribe, who were forced to move here from their traditional lands near Beersheba shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Over the ensuing years, Jahalin says, his family came to view the Jerusalem- Jericho corridor as their home. Furthermore, he notes, Israel’s plans to relocate the Jahalin clan to permanent towns would further destroy what is left of the traditional Bedouin way of life.
Ra ther than leave their current location, Jahalin says his family and friends would prefer to remain where they are, adding, however, that members of the community desperately need permission to work in the surrounding Jewish communities and industrial zones, including Ma’aleh Adumim, Kfar Adumim, Nofei Prat and Almon. He also calls on Israel to protect them from settler harassment, which, he says, is a “rare” occurrence but painful when it does happen.
“The settlers sometimes attack our animals when we are out grazing them,” Jahalin says.
“But it’s wrong to make us leave if we didn’t do anything wrong.”
More than three months have gone by since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would move forward with plans to develop the E1 corridor, sparking a severe diplomatic reaction.
Countries normally friendly towards Israel, such as Australia, Brazil, Denmark, France, Great Britain, Italy, Spain and Sweden, all summoned their respective Israeli ambassadors to condemn the plan.
In Washington, US State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said the move would “complicate efforts to resume direct, bilateral negotiations, and risk prejudging the outcome of those negotiations.”
But on the ground, there is little evidence that these plans have moved forward. While it is true that Bedouin like Mussa Jahalin have received eviction notices from the police and/ or the Civil Administration, they also say they have received such notices in the past and nothing transpired.
Even the main section of E1 – the green hill that is visible from the western side of Ma’aleh Adumim as one looks out toward Jerusalem – is little more than a barren, windswept area with nothing more than a four-story building that serves as the Judea and Samaria regional police headquarters. It is the only permanent building in the disputed area.
On the other hand, when Israel built the police station in 2008, the building required extensive infrastructure development. Today, the road leading to the police station is a three-lane highway, complete with a parking bay and scenic lookout point into the Judean Desert. The drive up the hill is marked by terraced areas of land, which could become a starting point for the 3,500-home Mevasseret Adumim neighborhood that is a central part of the E1 plan. And when the police station was built, the water and electricity mains that were installed could easily be expanded to serve the residents of a future neighborhood – all of which is consistent with a statement by a senior government source, who explained that Israel had not actually decided to build in E1, but rather had approved the next step in the planning process.
“The only thing the Prime Minister announced was that Israel would continue drawing up plans and zoning requirements for E1, but no decision was made to begin construction,” the government source told The Report on condition of anonymity.
“That would require a separate government decision, and that hasn’t been taken as of yet.”
As is the case with many aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, when talking about E1, it is tough to separate myth from fact, propaganda from concrete information.
Tens of thousands of words have been written about Israel’s plans for E1, with most focusing on one of two notions: Israel’s claim that it must develop the region in order to establish territorial contiguity with the capital, and the Palestinian counterclaim that an Israeli development here would irreparably divide the West Bank into north and south cantons, thus killing their dreams of an independent state.
In many respects, both claims are demonstrably false: Looking up towards Jerusalem from an observation deck in Ma’aleh Adumim, one can see the Palestinian towns of Zayim, Eizariya and Abu Dis on the slopes leading up to the capital. In order for E1 to connect Ma’aleh Adumim with Jerusalem, thousands of residents would have to be evicted, something that no Israeli spokesperson or official says is in the plans for E1.
It is clear then that whatever Israel builds on the other side of the wadi will not be able to connect to Jerusalem. That fact is reflected in a map obtained from the Ma’aleh Adumim Municipality, which shows a residential neighborhood for the main hill of E1, but does not indicate that the new section will link up with Jerusalem.
On the other hand, Palestinian claims that E1 would cut the West Bank in two appear to be equally specious. Israeli and Palestinian sources both confirm that Israel has approved plans and financing for a Jerusalem bypass road to serve the Palestinian population.
According to Eliezer Har-Nir, director general of the Ma’aleh Adumim Municipality, five kilometers of that road have been completed, from Zayim to Eizariya, financed by Israeli taxpayers at a cost of NIS 150 million. Ultimately, what appears to be at issue in E1 is the nature of Ma’aleh Adumim in a future final-status agreement with the Palestinians.
Both Har-Nir and the government source quoted above cited the fact that every prime minister since the Oslo process began in 1993 has stressed the strategic necessity of building up the area. Both also stressed the fact that Palestinian negotiators have agreed in principle to include Ma’aleh Adumim as part of Israel in a final-status agreement.
But both also noted that herein lies the source of the disagreement. “I know the Palestinians object – yes, they’ve accepted in principle that Ma’aleh Adumim will remain part of Israel, but they would like to see it as an island of Israeli sovereignty inside Palestine.
That’s unacceptable to us,” the government source said.
Se veral Israe li observers have pointed to accelerated Palestinian building in Eizariya and Abu Dis over the past 20 years to suggest a premeditated Palestinian plan to accomplish that goal. In a 2009 report for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, veteran journalist Nadav Shragai quoted the late Palestinian leader, Faisal Husseini, who called illegal building in the Jerusalem area “one of the Palestinians’ weapons in the struggle against Israel.” Shragai also cited Mohammed Nahal, a Palestinian expert on urban planning who, the journalist says, designed a plan to construct three Arab cities around Jerusalem in order to surround the Jewish neighborhoods that were built there after 1967.
As a result of that building, many residents of Ma’aleh Adumim feel the E1 project is almost an existential issue.
“There are really only two options for Ma’aleh Adumim,” said Charlie Levine, a Jerusalem-based media consultant who is a longtime resident of Ma’aleh Adumim.
“Either we’ll be connected to Jerusalem by a narrow road surrounded by Arab demography, or we’ll have territorial contiguity with Jerusalem. That depends on building up E1.”
At the end of our interview, Mussa Jahalin looks around his encampment with a sense of disappointment and frustration. Confronted with the claim made by officials in Ma’aleh Adumim that the E1 industrial zone that is slated to be built on this section of the land will play an important role in providing jobs for both Israelis and Palestinians in the region, Jahalin says, with a bitter smile, that he’ll believe it when he sees it.
“I don’t know what Israel’s plans are for this region, but I do know two things: First, I know that Israel does not make plans based on what’s good for us. If anything good comes to us from this, it would be good, but it would only be an afterthought. The plans are not being made with our benefit in mind.
“The second thing I know is this: About a week ago, the army came in the night and shone a very bright light on our houses. They spent an hour searching our homes and, in the end, they told us we would have to move within three months. The soldiers took people’s ID cards, wrote down the numbers and counted us.
“It isn’t the first time we’ve received eviction orders, so I’m not sure what to really make of it all. But it is clear that something is going on, and that Israel is preparing to move us from here,” he asserts.