A Tale of Two Townships (Tuesday 7 February)
PREVIOUS: Monopoly, Jerusalem style
Ma’ale Adummim reminded me of something out of a J.G. Ballard novel. It is a large settlement, c more the size of a small New Town, built on top of a hill east of Jerusalem, and in many ways it is a nice place. Calling it the Israeli equivalent of Basildon would be an injustice; it is more like an American suburb with its large mall, looping roads and general air of comfort and prosperity. Fountains water the avenues and grass verges of the town and there are several large swimming pools. But, as in any Ballard novel, there are things one sees in the corner of one’s eye that are disturbing and do not fit, something sinister and deliberately blind in the town’s outward calm. The gnarled olive trees by the roundabouts are older the town, hinting at a different sort of place that existed previously. The swimming pools are jarring in the desert landscape – the profligacy with which Ma’ale Adummim uses up scarce water is astonishing. And if you look past the pool and the beautifully engineered highways and connector roads, you can see some small, shabby encampments on the hillsides. These are Bedouin ‘settlements’ of a very different order in the Israeli-controlled Area C of the West Bank; bleak clusters of makeshift dwellings lacking any obvious access to clean water or public services. An Italian NGO donated a school to one of these encampments, thoughtfully built with materials like tyres that can be easily reassembled if the Israeli army bulldozes the area. Before that, there was nothing.
Not far from Ma’ale Adummim there was another shocking contrast, in the form of the Palestinian town of Anata. In the map of the occupation, it is a bit of an anomaly – part in East Jerusalem, part in Area C, and therefore on the dividing line between second-class and third-class status. It is dusty and shabby, its roads bumpy and potholed; there are no swimming pools or fountains here and I would be loath to trust anything coming out of a tap. At one end of town is a small area on top of a hill, one of the most squalid places I have ever been. It was a cold, windy day, and it was utterly desolate.
For some reason – probably because a military base is directly across a valley from it – the place has attracted the repeated attentions of Israeli army bulldozers in the occupation version of planning control. Apparently the houses here are in breach of regulations – even though the aesthetic appeal of Anata is hardly impaired by another few jerry-built houses – and they have been the victims of selective enforcement. The hillside is littered with incongruous fragments of domesticity – a door handle here, a cabinet there – and the flimsy results of weary rebuilding of demolished structures. Still, the householders were hospitable people and obviously keen to tell their story. Salim had worked abroad as a civil engineer and returned to Palestine only to become entrapped in the demolitions process, not surprisingly becoming an activist with ICAHD as a result.
NEXT: ‘Administrative detention’