The proposed E1 settlement expansion into the West Bank, recently blocked by Palestinian protestors at the short-lived Bab Al-Shams camp, is likely to not only have serious consequences for a potential Palestinian state, but will also have a crucial bearing for the future of Palestinians in Jerusalem.
The importance of E1, the missing piece in the matrix of Jewish settlements around Jerusalem, was demonstrated on the weekend of 10 January 2013. A group of Palestinian activists moved into this controversial site, and using tactics honed by the settlers themselves, set up tents overnight in a carefully planned and well-executed move. Word on the Palestinian East Jerusalem street is that the organisation of the demonstration came from higher places. The activists named their post the village of Bab al-Shams, Gate of the Sun, after Elias Khoury’s epic novel set in Palestine. The Bab al-Shams protest camp is the first Palestinian action of this kind, and although the demonstrators were removed by the Israeli border police in just two days, the relative success and high international profile of the non-violent protest bodes for more of the same.
E1 (East 1, or sometimes referred to in Hebrew as Mevasseret Adumim) appears at first glance as a barren piece of land; with much of mainstream media depicting the area with sheep grazing. Yet, it is this settlement that gives the international community sleepless nights. This is not due to moral compunctions, rather the reasons are geographical. As part of a huge thrust of land eastward from Jerusalem it, along with its companion settlement Maale Adumim, would cut the West Bank in two.
Map of greater Jerusalem, with Maale Adumim and E1 in the east (© Conflict in Cities) Click to enlarge.
North-south continuity in this area is critical as further east the mountainous desert is mostly uninhabitable and unnavigateble in efficient manner. If severed, a plausible Palestinian state would be impossible and the two state solution scuppered. Unusually, the international community has drawn a line in the shifting sands of confiscated Palestinian territory and in 2004 Israel was pressured by the Bush administration to freeze the construction of E1. Ever since, the settlement has remained as a threat that Israel can call up at will: it was used after the UN recognition of Palestine as a non-member state in November 2012, and has remained useful into 2013 through the period of Israeli electioneering. Israel has now promised 3000 residential units on the site.
But what does E1 have to do with urban conflicts in Jerusalem?
The E1 area of about 12.4 square kilometres is part of a peninsular-like extension to the municipal boundary of Jerusalem, along with Maale Adumim. Approximately 15,000 residential units plus a commercial/industrial zone is planned for the former, while the latter already has a population of 35,000; together they would make a small city. The Jerusalem boundary itself was increased from 36 to 108 square kilometres with the annexation of Palestinian East Jerusalem almost immediately after the end of the 1967 war. The first annexation has never been recognised internationally, and the Maale Adumim/E1 extension, although not yet incorporated, is slowly being enveloped by the wall (separation barrier). De facto it extends the area of greater Jerusalem substantially. For Palestinians, this is part of Israeli attempts to Judaise the city. But it is not only the size of the annexations that are important, it is the manner in which the city is being extended that will change its face. E1 is a lesson in how ethnically contested cities are won by accretion.
Whilst the irremediable division of Palestine is indeed worrying, one could ask what is still the chance of a two state solution? The so-called peace process is stalled and Israel appears to have little interest in reviving it. Facts on the ground – namely the strategic locating of settlements for over 40 years so as to create Israel’s spatial contiguity and destroy that of Palestine – make physical division virtually impossible. Many of the settlements are enormous, well-established and unlikely to be evacuated. The time for a two-state solution may well be over. But where E1 may still make a critical difference is in Jerusalem.
E1 is the chunk of land that forms the connection between Maale Adumim and Pisgat Zeev, another huge settlement to the north. Together, they make an enormous eastern block, moving the city’s Jewish population and centre of gravity eastward. East Jerusalem would no longer be east, and the Palestinian city would be an increasingly narrow strip jammed between West Jerusalem and the increasing bulk of settlements on the other side. Many of Jerusalem’s outlying Palestinian villages have already been left outside the wall, effectively relegating them to the municipalities of Bethlehem in the south and Ramallah in the north. The block of Pisgat Zeev, E1 and Maale Adumim would cement that, regardless of the fact that these are traditionally ‘Jerusalem villages’, with many generations of commercial, religious, social and familial ties to the city. They have now been realigned in other directions with little concern that new allegiances take years and generations.
And what would happen to Jerusalem? The changes are not difficult to imagine: remaining in the central areas would be a few middle class Palestinian neighbourhoods, the East Jerusalem CBD with its hotels for Christian pilgrims, and of course, the Old City and area around it, often referred to as the Holy Basin. A few ’good Arabs’ would enable the aesthetics and commerce of the historic quarters in aid of tourism. Whilst this would keep the holy places and other historical landmarks within Israel’s jurisdiction, it would Judaise the city and remove most of the ‘problematic’ Palestinian areas from Israel’s direct responsibility.
North-south mobility through the West Bank is essential for Palestinians. The other road connection that plays a critical role in the E1 configuration is west-east and this belongs to Israel. At present, Maale Adumim is connected to Jerusalem by one narrow corridor, a motorway that is part of a segregated road system built in order to access the settlements and bypass Palestinian areas. It is visible on our map as a red double line. Even more than the separation barrier, mobility is key to maintaining the occupation. It works in two ways: obstructing Palestinian passage and facilitating that of Israelis. Speedy, direct and considered to be safe, the bypass roads are meant for Israeli civilians, to make them feel that they are ‘next to Jerusalem’ or ‘just down the road from Tel Aviv’. In their important book on the settlements, Zertal and Eldar have stated that for the settlers, this infrastructure is their ‘elixir of life…the secret of their power’, without which they could not exist.
E1 will form the edge of the bypass road, thickening the Israeli territory from a narrow connecting thread in the landscape to a major part of urban Jerusalem. The ploy of being ‘just along the road’ from Jerusalem will have become true for the city will have not just connected to these major settlements but incorporated them. We have seen the process happen in other parts of the city; settlements like French Hill and Ramot Eshkol that were remote and undesirable 30 years ago have now been absorbed. Trees are mature, houses bought and sold, and children dally comfortably on their way home from school. Young Israelis cannot remember when these neighbourhoods were not part of the city and are at a loss to explain the location of the greenline (border of divided Jerusalem between 1948 and 67). It is a slow but insistent process of accretion, and loss of public memory is one of the key ingredients for cementing the geopolitical imperatives.
In both Jerusalem and abroad, there is debate about whether Israel is bluffing in its present stated intention to begin building E1. Some believe that once again international pressure may halt it. But, other conditions suggest that its time may have come. The Maale Adumim/E1 settlement block has been part of Israeli policy, both right wing and left of centre, since the 1990s. The area of E1 may seem barren (except to the Bedouin tribes who raise sheep and cattle there and are completely forgotten in this controversy), and such an argument – ‘the land is empty, we may as well settle it’ – has characterised Zionist settlement since the mid-nineteenth century. Moreover, when one looks carefully, it is possible to see that considerable infrastructural work has already been carried out in E1: a good portion of the mountain top has been blasted away in order to construct a modern road with divided carriage-way and solid retaining walls.
E1 road. (© Conflict in Cities)
A large police station has been built at the top, armed with search-lights and security cameras to survey the rocky hills around it
E1 police station. (© Conflict in Cities)
And perhaps most surreal, electricity pylons march off into the desert, to nowhere at present.
E1 electrical pylons in the desert. (© Conflict in Cities]
It is difficult to assess how much infrastructure is there without plans and these are not divulged. But one might assume that the scale of what is on the surface indicates greater installations below grade, and all of this is not for the Bedouin or the grazing sheep. As far as construction goes, it would appear that the difficult part is over; all that is needed is the addition of houses. E1 is indeed a settlement in waiting.
This article/photo essay forms part of the research carried out by 'Conflict in Cities and the Contested State' (RES-060-25-0015), funded by the Large Grant Programme of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) in the UK. For further details please see: www.conflictincities.org.