The tour of old Jerusalem done, Bishara saw us back to our bus – like a courteous uncle – where Angela Godfrey- Goldstein was waiting.
‘Jewish father, Catholic mother. Came to Israel because of a man, as you do.’ Angela was a middle-aged woman with hennaed hair. She spoke with an English accent which occasionally betrayed the fact that she had spent years in the Middle East. Living in Israel, she had accepted life as it was. After some years she ditched the Israeli husband and spent time living with the Bedouin in the Sinai. It was then, she told us, that she began to question the status quo. She now worked with the Israeli Commission against House Demolitions. Angela was our tour guide for the rest of the day.
The Israeli settlement of Ma’ale Adumim has a population of thirty thousand people. Modern buildings are laid out in neat streets. Some are multi-storey. White paint glares. Cream stones sit cosy and comfortable with their neighbours. Windows gleam. The roads are smooth, the kerbs are well kept. There are flowers planted in every public space, and lush growth in the gardens. There are many sprinklers. There are fountains with inanimate doves welded onto them. In May 2008, the flowerbeds looked like Dublin’s St Stephen’s Green when the annuals have been planted – reds bedded in beside oranges and pinks. In the hot afternoon the water mist melted into heat haze around Jerusalem. The place resembled the idealised towns in 1950s American movies.
Ma’ale Adumim is constructed order, sitting in opposition to the nearby scrubby hills. It is built on confiscated Palestinian land, lying just seven kilometres from Jerusalem. Ma’ale Adumim has its own link road into the city. Considered an illegal settlement under international law, it is just one of the settlements which are gradually encroaching on, and encircling, Jerusalem. Planned extensions will result in the division of the West Bank. A combined policy of deletion and exclusion is forcing Palestinian communities out of East Jerusalem, beyond the city boundaries. Settlements and gerrymandering enable the Israeli goal – majority occupation and control of Jerusalem.
We traveled around the western and south western fringes of Jerusalem, through valleys and patches of barren land, until the bus pulled in to a high area of flattened scrubland. Dismounting, we walked to the edge of the site and looked across to the city, and the settlements. Angela was pointing out various settlements to us when a group of people arrived in two cars, got out and stood in front of us. They appeared to be having some sort of discussion. We were curious, but waited until we were alone again to voice our questions. Angela thought they were prospective buyers – a new development was being built on this plot. The land immediately below us had been taken from a Palestinian family. They were told it would be a park. Now it was destined, with more parkland, to become chic new housing. In many cases the buyers would be rich Americans looking for holiday homes with views of the holy city of Jerusalem. This was the second time we had heard of land being redesignated. On a trip to Herodian with Ra’fat he had told us about land being deemed ‘of archaeological interest’ and taken from its owners. At Herodian we had also seen a small settlement, and the beginnings of a new one.
Sometimes paper companies are used, and Palestinians think they have sold their property to someone else. When it emerges that settlers are the new owners, a Palestinian family may find itself ostracised by the community, through no fault of their own. The ICAHD have rebuilt some demolished homes with international assistance, only to find them bulldozed again and again. Some homes are destroyed because they are too close to settlers’ roads, with the result that rural Palestinians are unable to live near, or access, their olive groves or vineyards.
Angela related one documented case of a Jewish-American doctor who has spent millions of dollars supporting the building of settlements. That hot May day, as we continued on Angela’s settlement tour, such a story was credible. A later visit to the offices of B’Tselem, the Israeli Civil Rights group, confirmed the depressing situation. ‘Official’ and illegal settlements pockmark the map of the West Bank, new municipal boundaries surround Jerusalem in a broken black line and everywhere State ‘Parks’ are blocks of colour on the sandy shaded Palestinian territory.
Really, when I thought about it, there had to be a little leaflet somewhere. A leaflet left in a cupboard – you never know when you might need it again – a bit grubby, like a delivery slip from a builders’ yard. A leaflet with instructions for Your Very Own DIY Settlement. As we drove on I wrote it up in my head. White paper. Blue print. Arial font. First step, acquire your land. This may involve a bit of land grabbing. It helps to be righteous. Using the Bible and archaeology as precedents is a good move.
Creative mapping and boundary changes are indispensable. Placing something as small as a transmitter on the land legitimises authority and ownership – but getting in security is always a winner. Security means people, and they need a place to live. Those security guys and their families will need water and sewage. By now you’ve got a small settlement. Kids need schools. Build a school. If you build it, they will come. Before you know it, your settlement has got streets and lighting, and flowerbeds with sprinklers. And nice fountains.
Fury built silently as we whizzed around Jerusalem in our little bus, heads moving from side to side like spectators at a crazy tennis match. It reached its apotheosis when, towards the end of the tour, we drove by a Tolerance Park – built on confiscated land.