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Photo taken from Alfei Menashe looking out ot the security fence with the Palestinian arab village that was initially include d on th eIsraeli side of th e fence but was subsequently put on the Palestinian side after a petition to the Israeli Supreme Court.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak


One of the first neighborhoods in Alfei Menashe
Photo by Rhonda Spivak


Construction of a new apartment building in Alfei Menashe while George Mitchell was calling for the ceasing of all construction over the green line.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak


The new school being built. The line in the upper right corner of the photo is the Israeli security fence or wall.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

 
THE APARTMENT I COULD HAVE BOUGHT IN ALFEI MENASHE

By Rhonda J Spivak, B.A., L.L.B.


I visited the West Bank settlement of Alfei Menashe, in August 2009,the very same day that George Mitchell, the  special U.S. envoy to the Middle East was in Jerusalem pressing the  Israeli government  to cease all construction in the West Bank, including allowing for “natural growth.”

While Mitchell was making his declarations, in Alfei Menashe, a settlement of 8000 people situated  on a hilltop  a kilometer and a half over the 1967 Green line,  I watched as two new neighborhoods were being built, in addition to an elementary  school [all within Israel’s side of the security fence].

“The school hasn’t been named yet” said Meir, whose family was one of the first to settle here  over 25 years ago.

He was sitting  in his real estate office in Alfei Menashe’s   small commercial centre-a restaurant or two, a post office,  and the district council building, with a laundry mat across the street.  His office is only a five minute drive from Kfar Saba, an Israeli just inside of the green line.

  “When he [Meir] arrived here, there were only 2 and a half people in Alfei Menashe,” said Ehud  with a chuckle as he blew smoke out from his cigarette. Levy was a  heavy set real estate agent  with blonde hair who has been on the Alfe Menashe district council for the last ten years. He, his wife, his children and their families, as well as his  wife’s parents and brother have all moved to Alfei Menashe, many from Kfar Saba.    
   .
“It’s quieter here. At night there is fresh cool mountain air, and it’s so close to the green line that the national consensus is that this will always be part of  Israel. We are behind the security fence, and only a kilometer and a half over the green line.  In any configuration, we’ll be part of Israel. There is no way that the construction of  the apartment buildings that are being built  now will be stopped.  They can’t be-they have already been sold on paper,” said Levy confidently.

Before meeting Meir,  on the drive on Road 6 out to Alfei Menashe,  I noted the barbed wire security fence to my left and the West Bank Palestinian city of Qalqilya just behind it.   On my right was the West Bank Palestinian town of Habla, which was also on the  Palestinian side of  the barbed wire security fence. In fact, the security barrier popped out at me almost every direction I looked, since Alfei Menashe is essentially an enclave.

At the entrance to Alfei Menashe, there was a gate and a security guard. There is also a wire fence all around the settlement.

“The gate is run by the district council, not the army. It’s guarded 24 hours a day.  The residents take turns guarding it, or you can pay someone to guard it for you,” noted Levy.

Gerbasi explained that after the  ’67 six day war, Alfe Menashe  was originally a military outpost of the Israeli army, and it’s easy to see why—to the north east it has a commanding view of Qalkilya,  to the West it looks over the Palestinian village of Habne and to the south it has a view of the small Palestinian village of  Ras  Atira. To the South East, you can see deep you can see into the West Bank. ”

But most importantly, as Meir  pointed out, “From here [when you look westward]you have a clear view of all of Tel-Aviv, Herzylia and Netanya—look how well you can see them and it’s not even a clear day.”

Levy adds, “Look-you can  even make out the Daniel Hotel in Herzylia from here.”

Yes, it is easy to see why the Israeli army chose Alfei Menashe as an outpost years ago.

The route of the security fence (“Geder Hafradah”) had to be changed as a result of the Palestinian Arabs who live on the next hilltop of Ras Atira. They were  originally included behind the security fence putting them in Israeli territory, but cutting them off from  Habla an other Palestinian areas.  B’Tselem and other human rights groups  have complained that part of the  route of security fence in this area was  originally  drawn to provide room for settlement expansion.  It was designed, they claim, probably with some justification, to accommodate the construction of a  Givat Tal, a relatively new neighborhood in Alfei Menashe.

“The Palestinians of Ras Atira  [an some other villages] petitioned to the Israeli Supreme Court complaining that they wanted to be on the  Palestinian side of the fence and they won. Now the fence  is being moved so they aren’t included on the Israeli side,”says Levy.

As I looked  out I could see the village of Ras Atira on the barren hilltop across from us.  I could see the bulldozer clearing the way for the new sections of the security barrier that is being built.  Further in the distance I could see the markings of where the security  barrier had first  been placed.  The villagers of  Ras Atira , no doubt  also have commanding views of Tel-Aviv

“Now the villagers of Ras Atira belong to Mahmoud Abbas, [President of  the Palestinian Authority], not us.  He can look after them,” says Meir.

“Now some of then  regret  the change,” said Levy.

“Some of the villagers work in construction and are building our new projects in Alfei Menashe.  They need to feed their families and now because they are on the other side of the fence it is harder for them to get here. So Israel now is going to have to build a gate near their village along the security fence so they can get to work in Alfei Menashe.  The army will have to man it an give them  approvals to come in…Now, belatedly, some of them realize that  had they not moved the fence they could have probably become Israeli citizens [if  and] when a peace agreement is signed…That would have given them more benefits..But, now it’s to late,” he adds.

When I ask Ehud how many Palestinians live in Ras Atira, Levy answered “Sixty families with their sheep.”


According to Meir and Ehud, real estate prices in Alfei Menashe had jumped in the last three years. In the first half of 2009, the population of the settlement increase by 2.7%, according to an Israeli Defense Forces Civil Aministration settlement report.

“About 5000 of the 8000 people who live here have come in the last three years, and prices have climbed 30% or more. It’s a good place, a strong population, and close enough that you can work in Tel-Aviv, Herzylia or Netanya…The yishuv is more or less built to capacity. There’s more buyers than sellers.”

The two men showed me a 3 bedroom apartment in the hills in the Givat Tal neighborhood that looked right across to Ras Atira, and the new part of the security fence there.  For one million shekel [$350,000] Canadian dollars it could be mine. A ‘window into the West Bank’, I thought to myself quietly---maybe they should try to convince George Mitchell to buy it—he could run out to his balcony and try to pursuade them not to finish the nearby school(a rather humorous image I thought! ).

“My daughter lives almost next door,” said Ehud. “She bought here 5 years ago on paper before the building was constructed for 600,000 shekel [about $ 185,000],” he disclosed. He also noted that the settlement is made up mostly of secular Israelis, with about 15 % being religious.  

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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