Jerusalem Report Article - June 14, 2004
Growing to Jerusalem
While other settlements battle prime ministerial evacuation plans,
Ma'aleh Adumim, the largest of them all is expanding rapidly, and
has now started work on a neighborhood that would link it to the
capital - and divide much of the West Bank
by Rena Rossner
Jerusalem Report - 06/14/2004
"We aren't moving from Ma'aleh Adumim," insisted the bright-red
billboards that popped up a few weeks ago all over the city.
Built on several desert hilltops just east of Jerusalem, Ma'aleh
Adumim is the largest of all the West Bank settlements, and
no one in the Israeli mainstream leadership is suggesting that
its 31,000 residents should move. So the billboards were not a
demonstration of defiance against some disengagement plan or
another. They were, rather, merely advertisements for a
supermarket, urging customers not to switch to a new competitor.
More than most other Jewish residents of the territories,
the people of Ma'aleh Adumim feel quite secure of their future.
As for the present, the mayor boasts that no terror attack has
ever been carried out in the city. "It's safe here," confirms
Jacob Richman, who runs the city's unofficial website.
"And it's not politicized," he asserts. "And there's a great
quality of life. What more could you want?"
While the government has invested massively in residential building
projects and road construction, the city has kept out of the
headlines and political controversy. Almost all Israelis see the
Jerusalem bedroom community - it's a 20-minute drive from the
capital center, traffic permitting, and only three kilometers from
the municipal boundary - as integral; so has every prime minister
since its official establishment in the late 1970s. "Every house
you have built here is a part of Israel. Forever. Period," said
Ehud Barak when he visited as prime minister in 1999. Speaking
here on the eve of his departure for mid-April White House talks
on disengagement, Ariel Sharon told a gathering of 3,000:
"Ma'aleh Adumim will remain part of the state of Israel forever
and ever." President Bush's April 14 public endorsement of
continued Israeli control over major Jewish residential areas in
the territories - and Ma'aleh Adumim is plainly the largest of
them all - was a further boost.
Determined to capitalize on that kind of support, Mayor Benny
Kashriel is now hoping to realize his longstanding vision for
the city. Work has recently begun on roads and other infrastructure
for a 3,500-home neighborhood to the west of the settlement,
in an area known as El, designed eventually to link Ma'aleh Adumim
to the eastern outskirts of municipal Jerusalem. And the mayor
believes that the West Bank security barrier will confirm the
connection: Although the route of the fence in this area has yet
to be published, Kashriel says Sharon recently assured him it
would extend east from Jerusalem to encompass not only Ma'aleh
Adumim, but also the settlement of Kedar, two kms. southeast,
and to the Inn of the Good Samaritan, the traditional site of the
New Testament tale, seven kms east on the road to Jericho
(and possibly even to Mitzpeh Jericho, five km. farther east
from the Inn). But Kashriel needs one more precious commodity to
turn his vision into reality: citizens.
Ma'aleh Adumim is different from many other settlements in that
more than 70 percent of its residents are secular and about
90 percent of them moved here not for ideological reasons, but for
lower-cost housing and higher standards of living, according to
municipal spokesman Hizki Zisman. "I came here in 1983 because
it was just about the cheapest place to live in the Jerusalem area,
the schools are good, it's clean, and there's a young population,"
says Avi Gabbai, who is in his forties, grew up on a moshav,
and now runs a photo store in the new Tsemah Hasadeh neighborhood.
Indeed Ma'aleh Adumim, with its many red-tile roofed detached and
semi-detached homes and low-rise apartment buildings, is very much
Israeli suburbia. Its name, which means Red Heights, does not come
from the tiles, but from the color of the rock formations on the
way up from Jericho to Jerusalem through the Judean Desert, and
dates back to the Bible (Joshua 15:6-18). Evoking those days far
more than the modem town itself are the surrounding hillsides -
bare and rocky with some evergreens for most of the year, but
green and covered in wild flowers in the short winter and spring
- where Beduin tend their sheep and goats. They live in black
tents or tin shanties, and camels or donkeys are a main mode of
Kashriel, mayor for the last 13 years, radiates supreme confidence
in the city's future. Pacing the roof of his brand new five-story
city hall much like a king on the castle ramparts, he surveys the
city's 55 square kilometers, an area larger than Tel Aviv, which
spread around him like the palm of a hand, its fingers stretching
out into more distant neighborhoods. "My dream is to build all the
way to Jerusalem," he says, his arm sweeping upward and to the west,
where the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and the tower of
the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus are visible on the not very
distant horizon. "To be a legal part of the land of Israel, but
to be economically independent of Jerusalem." He turns eastward,
toward the Judean Desert valley that houses Mishor Adumin, the
city's industrial area. "That will be accomplished thanks to
Kashriel expects the city's population to more than double in the
next six years. To house all the newcomers, work has already started
on infrastructure for the controversial El - which Kashriel intends
to call Ma'aleh Yerushalayim. He wants the neighborhood to include
hotels and a tourist center where the roads to Jerusalem and Jericho
intersect, and he's seeking approval for an airport capable of
handling small planes - in part to replace the airfield at
terror-buffeted Atarot north of Jerusalem.
In the cultural sphere, he intends to complete the city's half-built
theater building, an empty shell since construction was stopped for
lack of funds. He is also overseeing the completion of a Moshe Castel
museum, a dying wish of the artist who grew up nearby in north
Jerusalem, painted the hills as the settlement developed and passed
away in 1991. Kashriel is planning a museum of archaeology near
the Inn of the Good Samaritan. And he's working with the Jewish
National Fund on a park at the eastern edge of the existing
settlement, with a centerpiece artificial lake bordered by cafes
and tennis courts.
Castles in the air? Skeptics may believe so. But Kashriel's record
suggests otherwise. Now 52, he has overseen a doubling of population
since he became mayor in 1992, built two new neighborhoods,
a $2 million library, Israel's most-used community center and
a 17,000-square-meter shopping mall. The road to Jerusalem has been
shortened and widened and now there's a four-lane highway,
including two 550-meter tunnels under Mt. Scopus.
Israel's youngest city, with 48 percent of residents under the
age of 18, Ma'aleh Adumim recently won a second Ministry of
Education prize for excellence. With 1,100 dunams (275 acres) of
green space, dozens of playgrounds, outdoor sculptures and careful
city planning, it has also twice won the national prize for
environmental quality. Although most residents are secular, there
are 28 synagogues for the Orthodox minority. Best of all in
recession-wracked Israel, Ma'aleh Adumim's unemployment rate is
only 2.1 percent, far below the approximately 11 percent national
But what the city and its mayor thirst for more than anything else
is more residents, and ads to that effect have been plastered on
Jerusalem buses of late. "Raise your quality of life, move to
Ma'aleh Adumim," urge the brightly-colored signs, featuring photos
of children playing, flowers blooming, and a bright sunrise over
Higher living standards and lower prices were the obvious drawcards
for the people who visited a housing fair marketing Ma'aleh Adumim
dwellings at a Jerusalem hotel a few weeks ago. While a three-bedroom
home in Jerusalem's tony Bakah neighborhood would cost $250,000 to
$350,000, and one in the French Hill neighborhood, beyond the
Green Line, might sell for $200,000 to $250,000, a similar apartment
in a new development at Ma'aleh Adumim costs only $160,000.
In an older neighborhood, it would be even cheaper, perhaps $100,000,
Galit and Einav Dinur, a secular couple in their late 20s, are
expecting their first child. Sitting together at the booth of one
of the leading contractors, whose signs highlight the accessibility
and low municipal taxes at the settlement, they want an apartment
with three or four bedrooms and a large balcony. "We need something
large enough to leave room for everything," says Galit, who grew up
in Ma'aleh Adumim. "In Jerusalem that's not always possible."
Einav has different ideas. "I look forward to sipping a beer on our
balcony overlooking the desert," he says with a chuckle, "but the
most important thing to me is whether we can afford the mortgage.
That's why we are looking in Ma'aleh Adumim."
David Azerad, 50, his wife and four children now live in a
two-bedroom flat in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Neveh Ya'akov.
They'd like to upgrade. "We need at least four bedrooms," says
Azerad. While he rocks their baby in a carriage, his wife pores
over floor plans of one of the homes they're contemplating buying.
Real estate agent Shelley Levine, who specializes in the area,
says later that, "Ma'aleh Adumim is the best deal, especially for
young couples - the best value for money. I've lived here for
It was in the early 1970s that the Labor-led government first
envisioned expanding Jerusalem eastward by founding an industrial
area with a camp for workers on the Jericho road. At around the
same time, the Gush Emunim movement was seeking to establish its
first settlements. In the winter of 1975 a settlement group of
23 families and six single people set up a prefabricated concrete
building and two wooden huts about 20 km. east of Jerusalem - an
area now known as "Founder's Circle" that lies in the Mishor Adumim
industrial zone. Evicted several times, the squatters finally won
government approval for family residences on the site. And in 1977,
shortly after the Likud goverment led by Menachem Begin took office,
it granted Ma'aleh Adumim official status as a permanent settlement.
Kashriel, a Likud activist born in Ashkelon and raised in Holon,
was in charge of Ma'aleh Adumim's initial development as an
assistant to the director general of the Housing Ministry.
He often traveled to the site from Jerusalem until "I just fell in
love with the place and bought a home here" in 1983.
At the time, housing was far cheaper even than today. With tax breaks
and exemptions from the cost of development, an immigrant could
build a five-bedroom row house with gardens in the front and back
for about $30,000; a similar dwelling in a new neighborhood in
Jerusalem was priced in the $125,000-$150,000 range.
With prices like that, it's no wonder that the population grew
rapidly. By 1991, when it officially became a city, there were
15,000 people. And it is still growing. When all the homes in the
high-rise packed new Nofei Haselah neighborhood, in the northeast,
are inhabited, in 2005, the population will be 45,000. Kashriel -
who was first elected as a Likud candidate in 1992, but left the
party and won the last two elections on his own independent ticket -
envisages a rise to 71,000 by 2010, via the city's long-awaited
link-up with Jerusalem.
El, the area connecting Ma'aleh Adumim and the capital, is a
13,000-dunam (3,250-acre) stretch beyond the current city limits.
Set aside for settlement under Yitzhak Rabin's Labor government
in 1994, it was left undeveloped because of opposition from
successive U.S. Administrations. Importantly, says Kashriel,
it will drive a wedge between Palestinian territory north and
south of Jerusalem, precisely what makes the plan anathema to
the Palestinians and some would-be peace brokers, although the
Bush administration has indicated tacit support.
Kashriel is intent on putting political facts on the ground.
"Ma'aleh Adumim was established to break Palestinian contiguity,"
he says firmly. "It is Jerusalem's connection to the Dead Sea and
the Jordan valley; if we weren't here, Palestinians could connect
their villages and close off the roads. Ma'aleh Adumim necessarily
cuts the West Bank in two" - or will do, if and when El is completed,
for perhaps two-thirds of the distance between Jerusalem and the
Kashriel's assessment is shared by Danny Seidemann, an attorney,
human rights activist and expert on East Jerusalem planning.
But in contrast to the mayor, Seidemann says the political
consequences of building El will be extreme and counter-productive
to the prospects of a two-state territorial separation from the
Palestinians. "El is the ultimate unilateral act," Seidemami asserts.
In effect, he adds, "it creates a non-contiguous West Bank that
can never become a viable Palestinian state."
What's more, Seidemann believes, "developing El would put Ma'aleh
Adumim in the international spotlight it has so long avoided."
He charges that Sharon "sees it as a way to seal off East Jerusalem,"
preventing it, or even the West Bank town of Abu Dis just outside
the city limits, becoming the capital of a future Palestine.
Long before E1 can possibly be completed, however, the security
fence may emphatically link Ma'aleh Adumim to Jerusalem.
Envisaged as part of the "Jerusalem envelope," the fence's exact
route has not been made public, but Defense Ministry sources say
it will encompass Ma'aleh Adumim. Kashriel is confident that it
will take in all of his city's territory and more. He met Sharon
just before Passover, he says, and asked that Mitzpeh Jericho also
If and when it is built, the fence would make life particularly
difficult for residents of Al-Azariyah and Abu Dis, two Palestinian
towns on the eastern slopes of the Mount of Olives, west of Ma'aleh
Adumim, Kashriel acknowledges. On one side, they'll be fenced off
from Jerusalem, on the other blocked from getting directly to
Ma'aleh Adumim, where 2,400 Palestinians work in construction,
in industry and for the city.
New traffic arrangements being made because of the fence include
a planned ring road that, among other things, will eventually see
Palestinians travel from Bethlehem in the southern West Bank to
Ramallah in the north without passing through Jerusalem.
(Currently under construction is a section that runs beneath the
Ma'aleh Adumim-Jerusalem highway). The new traffic patterns will
make access to his city safer and quicker, says Kashriel. As for
the hardship to Palestinians, he shrugs his shoulders in a gesture
of helpnessness. Seidmaim fears that villages like Al-Azariyah,
on the "wrong" side of the fence, will be turned "into a corked
volcano. The situation will be radicalized, because people's
lives' there will simply not be livable."
Already, the area is not as immune to terror as Kashriel would
like to think: Security forces found three suicide belts in a
butcher shop in Al-Azariyah last September, waiting to be picked up
by bombers. Two people from Ma'aleh Adumim were killed in
Al-Azariyah, and a suicide bomber got onto a Ma'aleh Adumim bus
in February 2002 but was spotted and forced off, and the bomb
defused. A monk was shot dead on the main highway in 2001, and a
Beduin policeman killed in a bombing at a checkpoint on the same
road a year later.
But politics and security take a back seat when, after our stroll
on the roof of city hall and a meeting in his office, Kashriel
invites The Report to an end-of-the-school-year recital by high
school students of dance and theater. He pays for two ten-shekel
tickets and mingles with the crowd, shaking hands and kissing
cheeks, introducing this correspondent to school principals and
administrators. Everyone calls him "Benny."
We take our seats in the auditorium, and 20 bubbly teenagers in
black leotards and black and white polka-dot skirts begin a modern
dance routine. Kashriel is bursting I with pride. "I remember when
all of these kids were in kindergarten, eating popsicles at the
local mini-market," he whispers.
By the look on his face, you'd think they I were all his own
daughters up there performing. But Kashriel is never satisfied.
"They deserve better," he murmurs. "This theater only seats 200
people, and look, it's full. I have to build one to seat 650."
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