By Eliana Rudee
Ahead of Israel’s planned application of sovereignty, which was slated to start as early as July 1 but has been moved forward for the time being, Israelis and Palestinians from neighboring cities over the Green Line spoke out about the decision and its potential effects.
Naomi Kahn, international division director of Israeli NGO Regavim, said the application of sovereignty could provide a solution to the “crucial territorial battle” taking place in the E1 area (east of Jerusalem), where the European Union is providing support for illegal Palestinian outposts.
Addressing international journalists from Ma’ale Adumim, just outside Jerusalem, Kahn told JNS that “because Israel is not considered sovereign here, resources are being squandered because there is no planning in these areas for the future. There is no master plan for roads, and it is choking development. That is tragic in terms of Israel’s future, as planning would benefit every resident, no matter their race, religion or ethnicity.”
Through Regavim, Kahn works to protect Israeli land through mapping, aerial photos, identifying trends and problems, and lobbying for policy to protect the country’s resources. “E1 is a strategic battleground for control and territorial contiguity,” she claimed.
Control over that area, she continued, is important as the nexus between Jerusalem and Jericho, Judea and Samaria, and Israel and Jordan. It overlooks Route 1, which connects most of Israel’s major cities; plus, its critical watershed, where runoff gathers, is vital to the State of Israel for water-conservation efforts. Israel has previously committed to building housing for Bedouins in the E1 area, though the plans have been halted each time for political reasons, said Kahn.
A panorama of the disputed E1 area near Jerusalem. Photo by Eliana RudeeBecause of its strategic importance, she stated, the European Union has been placing feet on the ground to fund Bedouins who build illegal outposts in the area, consulting for them, providing living structures, water tankers, and schools for them, and representing them in court. “The land is being misappropriated for political reasons to base future agreements on those illegal outposts by creating facts on the ground that will “create the spine of a future Palestinian state,” threatening both Israel and Jordan. Providing what the E.U. calls “humanitarian aid” and with diplomatic immunity, said Kahn, it is in violation of its own charter, as well as the 1993 Oslo Accords.
The Bedouins, even when offered other housing by Israel, she expressed, have told her that they are ‘between a ‘rock and a hard place’ with the E.U. saying they mustn’t leave, and the Palestinian Authority torturing and murdering them if they work with Israel.
“I don’t know what lies at the root of E.U. hatred, but they do not like us, they never have, and they won’t start now,” she declared.
‘We are ready for it’
Brenda Horowitz-Prower, a city council member and resident of Ma’ale Adumim since 1984, said that while she doesn’t expect her day-to-day experiences to change after Israel applies sovereignty in the area, and that she “understands the problems” that naysayers relate, extending Israeli law to the city is important on a civil level and for building, zoning, and infrastructure.
Because Ma’ale Adumim is not considered Israel proper, every building project must be approved by the Israeli Defense Forces. “This is where we are and belong, and it is not taking land, so I am for it. We feel like it is time, and we are ready for it.”
Most residents in the city, she noted, are also supportive of and voted for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited the city in the recent elections cycle, running on the sovereignty platform. Once that is applied, she said, “We plan to build a waste-to-energy plant that will help both Jews and Palestinians in the area.”
Horowitz-Prower, who has spoken with Palestinians in nearby town Al-Eizariya, said the change might be quietly welcomed, as they live in poverty, do not trust their leadership, and are “too scared to seek change from the Palestinian Authority,” despite having problems such as biohazards in the area that need to be fixed.
Even if there is some backlash, she said, “we are used to terror, and I trust that the IDF is on top of it. And terrorism is not a reason to not move forward — we need to go for the long term.”
Palestinians living over the Green Line, however, are vocally unsupportive of the plan. Ahmed Saleh Abu Hilal, mayor of Abu Dis, a neighboring Palestinian village that became under Israeli military rule after the Six-Day War in 1967, decried that before Israel “took 96 percent of Abu Dis for Jewish settlements, it used to go all the way to the Dead Sea.”
The strangulation of the Palestinian areas, he said, has caused unemployment and destroyed infrastructure.
“Israelis don’t want peace, they want all the land around Jerusalem,” he continued. The sovereignty plan, he told JNS, though not unexpected, “will be very bad. They will take more land, and we won’t have any more agriculture,” which he noted was the predominant work sector for residents in the area before 1967.
“They dump their trash in the area and cause cancer,” he added, though noting that local Palestinians have also followed suit.
“I’m afraid,” he said. “I want my kids to be safe, and I am worried that soldiers will come and shoot my kids, and shoot people. We need to live in peace.”
Bassam Bahar, lawyer and resident of Abu Dis, similarly claimed that the annexation plan would result in “almost 90 percent of the land taken, with an expansion of Israeli settlements at our expense, dividing the West Bank into north and south.”
“If Israel annexes the land, I see Abu Dis becoming a camp. It will be crowded and finding work will be difficult,” he said. “I see no positive sides of annexation for us.” (JNS)