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Ma'ale Adumim
Photo by Rhonda Spivak.

View of French hill neighborhood in Jerusaelm. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat wants to link the settlement of Ma'ale Adumim to French Hill.


I first saw the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, which is over the green line, some twenty years ago. The settlement had always been referred to as a suburb of Jerusalem, a “bedroom community” built as part of “the ring around Jerusalem.” to ensure the city would always remain under Jewish sovereignty.   Driving with friends then down the windy road around the Mount of Olives, I remember expecting to see Ma’ale Adumim appear immediately on the horizon.  But, it wasn’t there.  We passed one barren dessert hill, and another and then another, and then one more. There were enough that I lost count.

Ma’ale Adumim was much further into the West Bank than I had envisioned it would be.  In fact, it was pretty well half way between Jerusalem and Jericho.  I asked myself then why the Israelis hadn’t built the settlement on the first hill or the second, much closer to Jerusalem. 

It’s a question that still resonates today.  As Israeli-Palestinian peace talks limp along, there has been a lot of quiet discussion about how to link Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem, in the event that there ever is a Palestinians state, with its capital in East Jerusalem.

A few months ago, I spoke with Uri, a sixty something year old resident of   Ma’ale Adumim, who fought in 1967 to conquer the neighborhood of French Hill in Jerusalem and I asked him about Ma’ale Adumim’s future.  He responded, “The truth is we Israelis made a mistake.  Years ago, we should have built Jewish neighborhoods linking Ma’ale Adumin to the neighborhood of French Hill [near the Hebrew university on Mount Scopus in East Jerusalem].  We didn’t because were too afraid of stepping on the American’s toes.  But, we should have done it anyway.  We should have established facts on the ground before the Americans noticed.  It’s true the Arabs would have protested then, but they’ll protest even more now. And we’re still going to have to do it in the end. ”

How was Ma’ale Adumim’s location chosen? In 1974, the slopes from Jericho to Jerusalem were barren.  Facing diplomacy with King Hussein of Jordan, the Israelis decided that if borders were to be drawn, they should not be next to Jerusalem.  If Jericho was to be given up, a settlement between Jericho and East Jerusalem would keep the Jordanians away from the Holy City.  Although there were doves in Israel’s Labour party that opposed plans to build Ma’ale Adumim, Yitzhak Rabin, Yigal Allon and Shimon Peres supported it.  There was no serious talk of a Palestinian state then, and the Jordanians were only ones in the picture.

The newly elected Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barakat has announced that he favours building  a new neighborhood that will link French Hill in Jerusalem to Ma’aaleh Adumim.  The neighborhood would provide lower cost housing to keep students and young families in Jerusalem.

In fact, I have seen a proposed peace plan, where on a map there is a line that is drawn to Ma'ale Adumin, meaning that Israel would retain control of a very narrow passageway to get to Ma'ale Adumin. When I asked Gershon Baskin, the Head of the Israel-Palestine Centre for Research about this proposed map, he answered, "You mean the map where Ma'ale Adumim looks like a balloon on the end of a string ?."(since then whenever I hear the word Ma'ale Adumim I think of a balloon).  

Shortly after Barakat’s announcement about planned neighborhoods to link  Ma'ale Adumim to the French hill neighborhood, I spoke with a former Labour Knesset Member who said she was against Barakat’s plan. 

“Israel should have never built Ma’ale Adumim,” she said.

“Maybe not” I said, and added, “But it’s too late now, isn’t it.  It’s already built, and there are a lot of people who live there.  You’re not saying that it should be evacuated and given to Palestinians if there ever is a peace agreement, are you?”

She responded, “No, I guess not.  There will have to be land swaps [between the Palestinians and Israel, with Israel giving Palestinians land in the Negev in exchange for keeping settlements in the West Bank].”

Then I said, “But if Israel isn’t going to evacuate Ma’aleh Adumim ever, then Barakat’s plan to link it to Jerusalem makes sense. It has to be linked.”

She answered “No, but that’s creeping annexation.  There won’t be enough land to give to the Palestinians.  Anyway, Ma’ale Adumim will always be surrounded by Arabs, so why does it have to be linked?

I answered, “It has to be linked because if there is no way to get out to it, without going through Palestinian areas, then no one will want to live there. It will evacuate itself.  It will be the way the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus was before the six-day war, an isolated enclave that no one could get to.”

There was a pause in the conversation. Then, I said, “Don’t worry about it anyway- If Israel didn’t succeed in linking Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem under Bush, it certainly isn’t going to be able to do it under Obama.”

And the other thought I had which I didn’t say was that if Israel was really going to make such a linkage, they should try to do it quietly, without having Barakat announce it—just the way Uri said they should do it. 

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.