Jewish Week Article - April 20, 2001
The Not So Wild, Wild West (Bank)
Normalcy prevails in Ma'ale Adumim, whether you call it a "town"
or "settlement." But some find its expansion a cause for concern.
Michele Chabin - Israel Correspondent
Jewish Week - 04/20/2001
Ma'ale Adumim - Even by the yardstick of these very difficult
times, Tuesday was an especially tense day in the Middle East.
Israel's air force attacked a Syrian radar station deep inside
Lebanon in retaliation for Hezbollah rocket attacks from Lebanon
that killed an Israeli soldier.
That evening, Palestinians fired mortars into Israel. Five 82-mm.
shells landed in Sderot, an Israeli town near the Gaza Strip,
but caused no injuries. In response, Israeli helicopters and
tanks hit back at Palestinian gunmen in Gaza.
But there was no sign of trouble in this pristine middle-class
West Bank settlement - or "town," depending on whom you ask -
just north of Jerusalem. The white stone apartment blocks and
red-roofed houses, home to 28,000, basked lazily in the hot sun.
Delivery trucks delivered their goods and children bought
popsicles or chocolate milk (in Israel, it comes in plastic
bags, not containers) on their way home from school.
Despite the fighting in Lebanon and Gaza, and violence in hot
spots like Hebron, life in Ma'ale Adumim - and many other places
in the West Bank - is more or less normal. So normal, in fact,
that entire neighborhoods are in the process of being
constructed here, and in several other West Bank settlements.
Some 6,130 housing units are currently under construction in
the territories, according to the Bureau of Statistics.
"This is a nice, quiet, peaceful place to live," says Shelly
Levine, 49, a longtime resident of Ma'ale Adumim who hails
originally from Queens. "It's like living in the suburbs of
Long Island in relation to New York City."
Levine, a real estate agent/developer whose newest project is
"07," a neighborhood being built on a dusty hill adjoining
other Ma'ale Adumim neighborhoods, says the quality of life
here attracts people from as far away as Tel Aviv.
Gazing at the cranes hovering over half-completed multi-level
structures, she says that "young couples move out here for
their children. You get so much more for your money than you
would in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv."
Driving slowly through Ma'ale Adumim, which its residents refer
to as a "town," she points to various stone buildings. "We have
an excellent school system, the star of the Jerusalem area.
We have two swimming pools and are building a country club.
This is the beautiful new shopping mall. When I moved here
15 years ago we had two little groceries. The growth is amazing."
Amazing or worrisome, depending on one's point of view.
Israeli and American officials concur that building within the
settlements is proceeding at a rapid clip in spite of UN and
Arab League condemnations, and the Bush administration's recent
remarks that Israeli building anywhere in the territories is
These remarks were made about two weeks ago after Housing
Minister Natan Sharansky announced that he would auction off
West Bank land to contractors wishing to build 700 additional
housing units. According to the ministry, 496 homes will be
constructed in Ma'ale Adumim and 212 in Alfei Menashe, near
Nablus. Some of these units will contain multiple dwellings.
These are the first tenders being offered by Sharon's government.
Upon hearing of the tenders, a U.S. State Department spokesman
said harshly, "continuing settlement activity by Israel does
risk further inflaming an already volatile situation. This is
While building in the territories is nothing new - with the
exception of a short interval during Yitzchak Rabin's second
tenure as prime minister - construction has been more or less
continuous since 1967. Opponents liken today's building starts
to pouring gasoline on dry tinder.
Peace Now spokesman Didi Remez asserts that the Palestinians
perceive settlement building as a "unilateral and violent act
that serves to deepen the occupation." In his organization's
opinion, "the unabated building is one of the reasons that
the Oslo process collapsed."
For there to be any hope of resuming final-status negotiations,
Remez says, "we need to come up with a stability package. If a
settlement freeze isn't part of the package, it's doomed to
Though particularly critical of Sharon, Remez also found fault
with the policies of Ehud Barak and Rabin.
"The settlements doubled in population between 1993 and 2000,"
he noted, when the two Labor prime ministers were in office.
"Under Barak, settlement construction was even accelerated.
He approved 3,500 tenders. This is a source of grassroots
frustration fueling the current intifada."
A Peace Now statement released earlier this week said there
are 2,400 empty apartments in Ma'ale Adumim and Givat Ze'ev,
and questioned why, under the circumstances, additional units
are being put up for tender.
Although the Housing Ministry's spokesman could not be reached
for comment, Benny Karshriel, Ma'ale Adumim's spitfire mayor
and chairman of the Yesha council of Jewish settlers, says the
additional homes, regardless of the current occupancy rate,
are vital to Israel's security.
"Ma'ale Adumim protects the eastern gate to Jerusalem. If we
weren't here," he asserts, the nearby Arab village of Azariyah
"would be connected to Aziyim," another village. "They would be
able to cut off the road."
Vital or not, Karshriel wishes that Sharansky and others
would not publicize the building going on in many settlements.
"I'll tell you a story," says Karshriel, seated in his oval
office in the municipality's spanking new headquarters.
"About three years ago I was on the plane with [former Prime
Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, headed for Washington for a meeting
with President Clinton. [Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel] Martin
Indyk was on the plane. We were together for 11 hours and
eventually talked about building in Judea and Samaria."
Karshriel recalls that "Indyk said when you're talking about
Greater Jerusalem, we won't make any problems. We're just
asking you to not mention it in the media. Don't put us under
political pressure. This is the American policy."
In response to Karshriel, Moshe Eilat, a Sharansky spokesman,
said bluntly: "I agree with him, but there is a problem.
We have a law in Israel that says that every piece of land we
sell has to be with a tender. The government cannot do it
privately or secretly. If we have to make a tender, we have
to announce it in the newspapers."
Both Eilat and Karshriel stress that the 700 units now being
debated were in the planning stage long before Sharon took office.
Referring to the "07" neighborhood, Karshriel said: "Of the
3,500 units that will ultimately be built, 500 are listed under
the proposed tenders. They were planned for under the Barak
In a sign that many settlers do not want to be provocative,
do not want to escalate tensions, the mayor said that only
a minority believes that new settlements should be established.
"Sixty percent think that existing communities should be
expanded, but that no new ones should be established at this
moment," Karshriel said. "In my personal point of view, it's
better not to build new settlements at this moment, but to
build additional units in existing settlements in order to
make them stronger."
He adds that officially, the current government supports
building in the West Bank - anytime, anywhere.
Like many residents of the West Bank, Bernice Brownstein,
who moved to Ma'ale Adumim four years ago, tries to stay out
of the political fray. She, her husband and two children
relocated from Jerusalem not for ideological reasons but
because "we needed something bigger that we could afford."
Brownstein, a 49-year-old preschool teacher, said she "fell in
love with" a house twice the size of her Jerusalem apartment.
"It has four bedrooms, a living room, dining room, TV room
and a garden in the front and back," she said. "Though it
might not impress people who live overseas, to us it feels
like a castle."
Brownstein also fell in love with the community.
"There's a warm, family-friendly atmosphere, and there are
always flowers and trees in bloom," she said. "When you pay
your city taxes in Jerusalem, you don't see what you're getting.
Here you know where your tax money is going."
Unlike residents in some other, more vulnerable settlements,
Ma'ale Adumim has experienced almost no violence since the
start of the Palestinian uprising almost seven months ago.
"We're very, very lucky," Brownstein admits. "Sure, when the
violence began I was aware, suddenly, of the fact that I was
driving on a West Bank road. There is occasional stone-throwing,
and some Molotov cocktails, but this isn't the norm."
Brownstein very much favors the construction of homes in the
"There needs to be more decent housing for Israelis. It's really
hard for young couples to find a place to live in Jerusalem that
they can afford," she said.
"Israel is a small country, and people need a place to live."
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