Last week, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee discussed annexing Ma’ale Adumim to the State of Israel (see also: Bennett vows to pursue Ma’ale Adumim annexation this month). Annexation of Ma’ale Adumim would strengthen the occupation of Palestinian lands. Moreover, plans to connect Ma’ale Adumim to Jerusalem create a barrier between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank, and complicate traveling and transport by Palestinians even more.
My first job as a clinical psychologist was in Ma’ale Adumim. This was 23 years ago, in 1994. Ma’ale Adumim, founded in 1975, received city status in 1991 and at the time was rapidly expanding. The primary health care clinic, in which I worked, was still located in a caravan. I have fond memories of that period, when I was not yet aware of the bothersome aspects surrounding this town.
For Israeli Jews, Ma’ale Adumim has become a popular and well known town, with only Jewish residents. In contrast, most Israeli Jews would not be able to locate on the map the Palestinian town of Al-Eizariya, despite the fact that it is just near Ma’ale Adumim and larger in population and area. The two are only separated by a roundabout.
Al-Eizariya was founded in the 6th century BCE, and nowadays forms an urban agglomeration, together with the city of Abu Dis and a few villages, like the Bedouin village of Jahalin. This agglomeration is part of the Jerusalem governorate of the Palestinian Authority, and mostly Area B (administered by both Israel and the Palestinian Authority).
At the entry to Al-Eizariya, there are big red signs stating that entrance is dangerous for Israelis. At the entry to Ma’ale Adumim, there is an Israeli checkpoint; Palestinians without an Israeli permit are not allowed to pass. Both places are kept apart. Moreover, regardless of the fact that they are on walking distance from each other, people live as if unaware of the other town and its inhabitants.
Dangerous for Israelis?
When Ma’ale Adumim was built, Bedouins used to live on the land and herd their flocks. They were expelled to the village Jahalin, just opposite Ma’ale Adumim, and located near Jerusalem’s waste disposal site. Notwithstanding legal battles, pollution stemming from this site still contaminates air and water, and poses health hazards.
Abu Dis too is an ancient place, dating back to the Late Roman and Byzantine periods. Among others, the Palestinian Al Quds University is situated here. Abu Dis is adjacent to Jerusalem, but separated by the separation wall. In order to reach Jerusalem by car from Abu Dis, one has to make a detour which could take an hour, instead of a five minute drive before the erection of the wall.
Ma’ale Adumim is a modern city. Its name means ‘ascent to reds,’ referring to the red rocks in the ascent from the Dead Sea. I show friends who come to visit how it is beautifully built, with broad clean streets and lots of vegetation.
The tomb of Saint Lazarus of Bethany is located in Al-Eizariya, which means ‘of Lazarus’, in Arabic. The town, which is also called Bethany, is a place of pilgrimage for Christians and thus has a number of churches. Still, most of its inhabitants are Palestinian Muslim, many of them Bedouin, who are served by dozens of mosques. Christians and Muslims live together in harmony.
In Al-Eizariya, infrastructure is quite limited, sewage is insufficient, and it is only a couple of years ago that the main road was paved, not by Israeli or Palestinian authorities, but by USAID. Unlike in Ma’ale Adumim, life takes place outside and people and cars are all over. It is when driving through a dusty and dirty Al-Eizariya, that Palestinian Arab friends call my name in passing.
Little story: December 31, my Bedouin friend Ahmad and I planned to visit the university in Abu Dis. The university was closed, so we had a hummus with falafel and french fries. While eating, a small cat with striking colors — white with a red tail — put its eyes on Ahmad. Ahmad had been coping with mice in his apartment. A variety of non-lethal measures appeared to be ineffective, but he hadn’t tried a cat. So he took it along in the car.
We drove through Al-Eizariya, and passed the Christmas tree at the central square and a group of heavily armed Israeli soldiers, a little further. We also came across our friend Sami, who invited us for a meal on the occasion of his newborn child. We declined, since we had just eaten and were heading for another place to get me a second hand microwave.
The university was closed, the microwave turned out to be dysfunctional and the New Year’s party in Kfar Adumim, a nearby Jewish settlement, to which we both were invited, was canceled. However, I finished the year in good spirits, and Ahmad with a new cat.
*** Three days later, the mice have disappeared and Sami was arrested by the Israeli army, after a raid on his house, allegedly for his involvement with setting up the Christmas tree.
Things can be different
Throughout the years, I have visited many more people in Al-Eizariya than in Ma’ale Adumim. I know where to eat hummus, oriental meat dishes and knafeh (sweet middle eastern cheese pastry). I also have my greengrocer and my butcher, who shake my hand upon meeting and occasionally invite me for coffee. What a different experience with the shopkeepers in my own Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem!
So, the two places are worlds apart and there is no Ma’ale Eizariya. However, looking on the map, Ma’ale Adumim looks like a large spread out suburb of Al-Eizariya; hence the name.
I doubt that either discussion on the annexation of Ma’ale Adumim or arrests of Palestinians, peacefully objecting the occupation, like Sami, will bring us a peaceful 2017.
This post was originally published in my blog at the Times of Israel .