Letter From Jerusalem | The Nation


Letter From Jerusalem

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I drove up to Ma'ale Adumim on a road that is strictly for Israelis. Ma'ale Adumim is a huge suburban settlement a few miles outside Jerusalem. With the construction of the wall, it will soon be inside Jerusalem, surrounded by what is known in wallspeak as the Ma'ale Adumim "bubble." It's another charm added to the bracelet encircling the city, and, with a population of more than 25,000, it is the largest settlement in the occupied territories. With its red tiled roofs and stacked two- and three-story houses, its mall plazas and green roundabouts, Ma'ale Adumim is a typical Israeli suburb, except for its dramatic, windswept, isolated, vertiginous location, from which it looks out over a wide expanse of the West Bank.

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Amy Wilentz
Amy Wilentz, a Nation contributing editor, is the author of Farewell, Fred Voodoo: A Letter From Haiti (Simon...

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At the westernmost edges of Ma'ale Adumim I saw at least four cranes at work on further construction. Recently, to the outrage of Palestinians, the Sharon government announced plans to construct another 3,500 units. If the settlement expands, it will split the West Bank into two cantons and render a geographically contiguous Palestinian state impossible--"which is the point," Gil says. Another part of the regional plan entails the government-sponsored construction of a densely populated urban settlement that would stretch along the now virtually uninhabited land between Jerusalem and Ma'ale Adumim. This would cut off East Jerusalem and effectively crush the possibility of East Jerusalem becoming the future capital of the Palestinian state. Along with the plan for the "bubble," this constitutes a direct attack on the "road map" peace plan, promulgated in 2003 by the United States, the European Union, the UN and Russia; the Geneva Accord; and the two-state solution itself. Sharon's Gaza disengagement plan, strong-armed through an unusually fractious Knesset in late March, is intended to insure Israel's security without really engaging in talks. By peeling off Gaza and all but annexing the large West Bank settlement blocs, Sharon believes, Israel's security will be guaranteed. But will it? And for how long?

"No matter what aspect of Israeli life you look at, you will always run into the occupation," Anat Hoffman says. She is a former Jerusalem city councilwoman and now the director of the Israel Religious Action Center, a civil rights group that advocates social justice and religious tolerance and opposes the imposition of religious goals and norms on civic life. "In part, the wall is about demographics," she says. The Jerusalem municipality's preferred demographic balance between Palestinians and Israelis in Jerusalem (the eternal and undivided capital of Israel) is 28 percent to 72 percent. But the actual figure is now 33 percent to 67 percent. If you have a blue Jerusalem identification card, which is issued by the Israeli government, it means you've been classified as a Palestinian Jerusalem resident (i.e., one of the lucky 33 percent). This card entitles you to pay taxes, to have municipal benefits (even though Palestinian garbage, say, is not picked up with great regularity) and to vote in municipal elections. But although a Palestinian may have a blue card, he or she is not a citizen, has no Israeli passport and cannot vote in national elections. In the old days, if a Palestinian woman with a blue Jerusalem card married a man from the West Bank, he would receive Jerusalem residence. But this is no longer the case. Jerusalemites can no longer bring in their spouses, even if there are children involved. Without the wall, the Palestinian population figure would be rising at a rate even more alarming to supporters of a Jewish Jerusalem, although one not entirely expected result of the wall's construction is that Palestinians whose homes are outside the planned wall are rushing to move inside before construction is completed, so they can remain in the city. Not surprisingly, along the inside of the wall, housing prices are rising steeply.

When she worked as a city councilwoman, Hoffman got into everything. One of the things she was interested in was earthquakes. You would think that Jerusalemites would have enough to worry about without considering the seismic dangers, but Hoffman, who went to UCLA and has learned about earthquakes, says this would be unrealistic. "Jerusalem is due for another major quake," she says. The last one was in 1927, and supposedly, big temblors occur here every eighty to a hundred years. According to Hoffman, Jerusalem could have as many as 100,000 fatalities in a large earthquake. "But I happen to know that there is no emergency plan in place to deal with the dead and wounded, and I happen to know that we have only 20,000 shrouds, because I ordered them," Hoffman says.

Twenty thousand shrouds, waiting. It's a Jerusalemite interpretation of New York City's Central Park "Gates." It's the dark version of how a city welcomes its fate. The last shroud I paid attention to in Jerusalem was that of Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 by a fanatical Israeli opponent of the Oslo Accords (not that one lacks for an opportunity to view shrouds, both ancient and contemporary, either in this city or in the occupied territories). But Rabin's shroud, after all the suits and the handshakes, was poignant--everything at the time seemed boiled down to the simple, the essential, the obvious, the plain white cloth of human necessity. Peace was threatened; peace would triumph; peace was logical and inevitable, no matter the obstacles placed in its path. Today that is patently not the case; Jerusalem itself seems to teeter at the edge of a self-imposed, self-destructive insanity.

A wall, for example, protects you--possibly, conceivably--from human bombs, but not from rockets. A wall gives you a breathing period, but before what grand catastrophe? A wall encourages rockets, as the Israelis have already seen in the north, near the Lebanese border, and in the south, near Gaza. Soon it will be Jerusalem's turn. The wall may prevent bloodshed, although the recent Tel Aviv suicide bombing calls that theory into question. But what a wall, a towering, blank, cement wall, signifies, in its dead heart, is that there is no more trust, that steps will be taken with no consultation, that compromise is a meaningless exercise and that the hope for peace, which Yoav has, and David Grossman has, and Hani has, and Abbas has, and Anat has, and I still have, is a hope now being pursued in the face of all evidence to the contrary. It is a desperate, necessary hope.

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