The architecture of apartheid

January 7, 2010

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, recently traveled to the Middle East as part of the Gaza Freedom March, a delegation of activists who planned to challenge Israel's blockade of Gaza by delivering desperately needed humanitarian supplies. The Egyptian government blocked the 1,360 activists taking part in the Freedom March from using the Rafah border crossing to enter Gaza. Ratner then traveled to East Jerusalem, where he witnessed firsthand the brutality of the Israeli government. Here, he describes his trip.

TODAY, WE came away stunned, shocked and almost numb from our trip to East Jerusalem with Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. And when I say we, I mean my family--my wife and two children, 19 and 21.

We have spent the last 10 days trying to get into Gaza from Egypt; demonstrating against the Gaza siege and joining demonstrations in Israel at the Erez crossing and protesting the evictions in the Sheikh-Jarrah area of East Jerusalem.

But nothing, and I mean nothing, prepared me for today and our trip through East Jerusalem and to Ma'ale Adummin, a city a few kilometers away. It was not the Palestinians we met, although each had heart-breaking stories. Rather, it was our seeing firsthand the deliberateness of the Israeli annexation project and its seeming inevitability.

If you want to be made almost speechless, stand at the edge of East Jerusalem and look out at a vast construction project on someone else's land. Look out at the commission of a monstrous crime, open and notorious. As one of my children asked, "Why have the countries of the world done nothing to stop this?"

A Palestinian family stands in the wreckage of their East Jerusalem home, bulldozed by Israeli forces
A Palestinian family stands in the wreckage of their East Jerusalem home, bulldozed by Israeli forces

I said, "It's worse, the U.S. and others have aided and abetted this crime."

Today, we traveled with Jeff through East Jerusalem and to what some, at least in the media in the U.S., refer to as the settlement of Ma'ale Adummin. It is not a settlement, but a new city of 50,000 Israeli Jews, soon to be expanded to 70,000.

Ma'ale Adummin, built on a hilltop, will ultimately be, or is already, part of the expansion of East Jerusalem into a wider municipality that is called by some the "Jerusalem envelope." Before we drove through the valley to get to Ma'ale Adummin, Jeff showed us a bit of East Jerusalem. He pointed out the Israeli Ministry of Interior, the police headquarters and the courts, all now in East Jerusalem; all a means of asserting Israeli control over the area and its Palestinian inhabitants.

Then we went close to the 25-foot-high concrete separation wall which will ultimately lock out Palestinians from Israel, Jerusalem and many cities, towns and settlements in the occupied territories.

On a knoll above that particular piece of wall, we saw a prison and an interrogation center for Shabak, the Israeli internal security agency.

Jeff then drove us to a viewing site at the edge of East Jerusalem, where we overlooked what is called by Israel "Area E1." It was a valley with roads criss-crossing it, a few houses and trees, and on the distant other side--there it was, Ma'ale Adummin.

WHILE I had heard of Area E1, I never understood what was meant. I think I understand it now. It is--at least the valley area I was looking at--the road system and land that will link Ma'ale Adummin to East Jerusalem and other settlements.

Area E1 will also cut off Palestinians traveling north and south; they will be forced to make circuitous routes from one Palestinian area to another. And remember all of this land is in occupied territory, including all of East Jerusalem. Israel's actions are in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions.

As we drove toward Ma'ale Adummin, Jeff took us to what are known as Areas A, B and C.

Area A is where there is full Palestinian control; B is where there is joint Palestinian and Israeli control; and C is where there is full Israeli control. It is in the C area of East Jerusalem where many of the house demolitions are occurring--another story for later.

We also went to the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, where some 35,000 Palestinians live in poverty with no municipal services. We drove past small sheet metal shacks of Jumalat Bedouins, who, like many Palestinians, are facing eviction. We saw field after field of olive tree stumps, 100-year-old trees that once belonged to the Bedouins that had been cut down by the Israelis--insuring that Bedouins could not stay in or near East Jerusalem. We passed an almost-completed road with a high metal wall separating two concrete strips; one side was for Palestinians and the other Israelis. Finally, we began our drive up to the city on the hill, Ma'ale Adummin.

What first strikes one is the color. The city is green and lush. There is grass everywhere and palm trees lining cleanly paved concrete roads. This is all in an area where water is almost non-existent, and many Palestinians have no water. In the center of each of the roundabouts on the way up is an olive tree--not just an ordinary olive tree, but a wide squat one that is perhaps 400 or even 500 years old, likely an olive tree taken from a Palestinian farm.

At the entrance to the city is one of the more incongruous and Orwellian monuments to erect in this stolen city: a huge white metal sculpture of two doves, with wings unfolded sheltering a globe and inscribed on its base with the word--and it seems like a nasty joke--"Peace." Peace, apparently defined, as the dismembering of the Palestinian people.

As we continued our ride up, we passed a suburban shopping mall with some big box stores, stores that are part of international chains that hopefully will become targets of the BDS movement.

We finally stopped at the end of a street that could come out of any middle-class suburb in America: neat houses and apartments with small yards. Ma'ale Adummin is called a dormitory community or as we would say, a bedroom community. Its residents work in Tel Aviv. They live here rather than in Jerusalem because of price (half that of Jerusalem) and lower taxes, not because of religious ideology. It is a secular community that can shop at the mall and will be able to drive to work in a few minutes on segregated roads.

We went to a lookout over the E1 area and toward Jerusalem. As we looked down the hill, we saw a construction site for a huge swimming pool--a swimming pool in this parched land, where only the select have water. Across the valley, we saw the building of the architecture of apartheid: the segregated roads and separation walls.

I could have been standing in a white-only town in South Africa, but I was standing in an Israeli Jewish-only town in the occupied territories.

First published at the Just Left blog.

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