For 'settlers,' annexation feels like making aliyah again – opinion

A ‘settler’ from Ma’aleh Adumim reflects on becoming a ‘citizen’

WILL THE settlement of Ma’aleh Adumin officially become an Israeli city? (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
WILL THE settlement of Ma’aleh Adumin officially become an Israeli city?
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
It almost feels like I’m making aliyah again.
If the Israeli government – with the support and encouragement of the Trump administration – has its way, sometime this summer my status will be changed from that of Israeli citizen to ISRAELI CITIZEN!
That’s because my city of residence, Ma’aleh Adumim, is rumored to be one of the trial balloon winners – if not the only one – in the great annexation/sovereignty contest of 2020.
Yes, I made a conscious decision some 25 years ago to move from Jerusalem to this growing West Bank settlement-turned-city of some 40,000 Israelis that sits like a fortress on a peak of the eastern slope down from the capital, on the way to the Dead Sea. It was the heady days following the Oslo Accords, when it appeared that an agreement between Israel and the nascent Palestinian Authority was only a matter of time, a short time. Nobody realized that the clock was broken.
But even then – and more so now – it was obvious (at least to Israelis) that due to its size and location, Ma’aleh Adumim would never be dismantled or evacuated in an eventual negotiated accommodation with the Palestinians, and would forevermore be located within Israel’s borders.
However, I never expected that the pleasant town I have since called home and where I raised my four children would become the focal point of international glare, amid Israel’s expected plans for expanding sovereignty to Jewish-populated areas of the West Bank. And all because the US president’s ego is pushing him to achieve the “Deal of the Century,” while at the same time the Israeli prime minister needs to deflect attention from his criminal trial and shore up support from his base.
Take away those political considerations and what does Israeli sovereignty mean for me and my fellow residents of Ma’aleh Adumim? I’m not sure. Will the government give each newly sovereign citizen a giant Israeli flag as a welcome gift?
Like the other inhabitants of the city, I’ve always felt like a full-fledged Israeli citizen – and I can show you my salary slip to prove I pay the same taxes as an Israeli citizen.
If a tax break was involved, annexation would be something I could certainly get behind wholeheartedly.
But as I understand it, what will change when Israel expands its borders to Ma’aleh Adumim is building, building, building. With Israel fully in control of the land and not just the people who live on it, road and housing construction will no longer be under military supervision – and Ma’aleh Adumim will have to put up with standard bureaucratic disorders just like, say, Rishon Lezion and Beersheba.
ON A PERSONAL level, the change would mean I would be able to build that addition to my apartment with approval from the municipality and not from the IDF Civil Administration.
But in practice, will life the day after annexation change at all for the residents of Ma’aleh Adumim? Probably not. The traffic to Jerusalem will still be heavy, and the weather will still be desert hot with a cool breeze at night. The security booths standing at the entrances to the city will remain, as will the roadblocks that prevent Palestinians without Jerusalem residency cards from entering the capital.
Annexation sure won’t make life any better for the thousands of Palestinian residents of the neighboring Palestinian town of Azariya, or for the Bedouin who live in encampments along Road 90 toward the Dead Sea. Already disenfranchised and caught in a hard place between a neglectful PA and uncaring Israel, they will remain the victims of the decades of non-negotiations and non-agreements that have resulted in Israel’s upcoming unilateral move.
We former settlers will still be afraid, even forbidden, to enter their town because we might be killed; and they will still hate us because they think we stole their land. Annexation won’t change that.
It’s true, Israel can’t wait forever. But what everyone keeps ignoring is that we’re not living here alone in a vacuum.
Even though the prospects – as history has shown – of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians are slim to none, both sides know that neither people is going anywhere. We will continue to live together in an admittedly bizarre, one-sided form of coexistence that annexation will do nothing to improve and everything to potentially damage.
That meager contact includes Palestinian laborers, builders and gardeners who earn their livelihoods in Ma’aleh Adumim. It also includes efforts to engage with Ma’aleh Adumim’s Palestinian neighbors as part of an interfaith encounter organization – temporarily sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic – working to create personal connections that the leaders of both the Jewish and Muslim communities seem to have no interest in forging.
Yes, Ma’aleh Adumim should be a legal part of Israel, and I should not be labeled a settler. Annexation makes total sense. But let that happen as a result of a negotiated deal that includes all of the residents of the area, and not bulldoze through a declaration that serves the interests of the Trump and Bibi show.
Although it’s been 35 years since initially making aliyah – and I’m positively giddy with anticipation at the prospect of finally becoming an ISRAELI CITIZEN – I could easily forgo the honor for a while longer. Things aren’t so bad merely being an Israeli citizen – even if I’m not planning any apartment expansion, and doubt we’ll get that tax break.
On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind that Israeli flag.