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The first time I saw a settlement from behind its walls

Israel/Palestine
on 13 Comments

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Last summer was the first time I had ever seen a settlement from behind its walls.

We 26 delegates drove down the highway that bisects the E1 corridor in a stream of all yellow, Israeli license-plates. Behind us were the outskirts of East Jerusalem, whole Palestinian neighborhoods like Atur and Abu Dis, which had been sandwiched between the expansive wall through Beit Hanina and the imposing shadow of the “Separation Barrier” that designates the beginning of the West Bank. All around us spanned the desert. In front of us were the shiny, red-roofed, homes of Ma’ale Adumim, the largest settlement in all of historic Palestine.

We passed through a checkpoint but were not stopped on account of our yellow license plate. Two boys walked their donkey up a large hill in the heat beside the highway. The trees were small and dry and the shade was minimal. The new police station sat atop one of the hills in the distance, watching over the whole valley, a recently privately-funded project by five U.S. citizens in order to facilitate the construction and expansion of Ma’ale Adumim and its future sister neighborhoods. The Wall stood tall in the backdrop of the valley.

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Ma’ale Adumim

Upon arrival to its entrance, the landscape changed abruptly. Palm trees sprouted from the median in the road, hot pink flowers grew in abundant bushes beside them, smooth pavement spanned on either side of the convoy, and ancient olive trees that had been uprooted from their original roots were placed in small, landscaped roundabouts as a fashion detail, all slid by us one by one as our bus drove past an urban shopping area and a manicured community park across the street. A Bedouin woman carried her bags to the mouth of the avenue. The day was hot and the air was dry aside from a cool breeze that ruffled her sleeves and the blue plastic bags that she carried in her hands. Someone commented that many times the Bedouins in the area are used as menial labor for these settlement communities that are expanding onto their land. I thought of the new proposed settlements in the E1 corridor, those same development plans supported by our U.S. President Barack Obama– and pushed into a normalized occurrence by the international media– and I was angry.

After passing multiple apartment complexes, the bus climbed to the top of a large slope and parked in front of a vista point. From the top, I saw the same sprawling desert of rock and small dry trees surrounding the highway that we had just come through a couple of minutes prior. Around us on the hill we were surrounded by luscious plants that, unlike their neighbors, had plenty of water to drink and bloom into their potential thickness. The stark contrast made the settlement bloc around us appear fictional and out of place.

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During my time as a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz, I spent many club events and breaks between classes tabling in the Quarry with my fellow Committee for Justice in Palestine members with the goal of educating students on my campus as to the detrimental effects of settlement complexes such as these on the political landscape of the area and the daily lives of their Palestinian neighbors. Yet, upon looking down the hill into a large ornamental pool of blue water and the surrounding beds of lush green grass, I was suddenly lost for words.

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“Dove of peace and prosperity” fountain.

The presence of the military occupation, the systemic violence of this occupation, is inescapable in its blatancy. While it can be systematically ignored by most world media sources, political leaders around the world, and many citizens of the Israeli state, the demonstration of such intensely polar power dynamics created a context where the Occupation was unquestionably present as it reigned over the landscape and the people within it. I know I am not alone in this observation. I can only imagine what it is like to look daily onto the outside walls of Ma’ale Adumim and know that it is literally sucking the life force of my neighborhood, my family, my friends, from under our feet.

Beauty is often a shallow descriptor and it can easily turn to ugliness if it is cultivated by greed. The colorful flowers were bright in the late sun but they were not beautiful. The recreational park, the olympic-sized swimming pools, and the ornamental pond looked hideous in the middle of the brown desert even as they glistened in the light rays. The olive trees looked lonely and oddly contained in their prim roundabouts and, as the tall blocks of Palestinian homes with their black water barrels and beige rooftops came closer into view, I saw that there is nothing beautiful about Occupation, even on the surface; even if it looks clean, it is ultimately covered in grime.

I told myself that it didn’t have to be this way. And I lived up to my name. I let go of the intensity of my anger and I pushed it into my heart. I Hoped.

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All photos by Nadya Raja Tannous

(This article was first published on Interfaith Peace-Builders)

Nadya Raja Tannous
About Aida Najar

Aida Najar is a community activist and writer located in the Bay Area (Ohlone Nation).

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13 Responses

  1. LanceThruster
    LanceThruster
    November 7, 2013, 2:32 pm

    Wow. They sure take their Blut und Boden philosophy seriously there.

  2. ritzl
    ritzl
    November 7, 2013, 3:51 pm

    Thanks. There’s two ways to look at settlements (and settlers and their actions for that matter). This way and from the other side of the walls (and wire…). Neither is positive/either is educational to normal people and their sense of right and wrong.

    If zios would (they certainly could) live a week on the other side of the pools/grass/walls, they would be enlightened as well. They don’t. I’m glad you shared this glimpse of their side, looking out. Plantationally speaking…

    Invaluable and rare exposure of the reality and that inside/out PoV. Perhaps some minds will be changed.

    BTW, the view in the photo is beautiful, if heartbreakingly sad. Palestinians cannot share it now, by “virtue” of the gun.

  3. mondonut
    mondonut
    November 7, 2013, 4:46 pm

    Is it hard to take seriously the opinion of anyone who thinks the greater San Francisco Bay Area is occupied territory.

    • just
      just
      November 7, 2013, 7:14 pm

      WTH?

    • thankgodimatheist
      thankgodimatheist
      November 8, 2013, 5:03 am

      It’s hard to take seriously someone who prides himself in being a nut.
      Btw, what would you me her to do? Give the flat/ house she’s most likely renting to those who used to live there 400 years ago? Not that it’s not a good idea at all mind. And so should you.

      • thankgodimatheist
        thankgodimatheist
        November 8, 2013, 5:57 am

        Oops. What would you like her to do, rather.

  4. just
    just
    November 7, 2013, 5:11 pm

    “The new police station sat atop one of the hills in the distance, watching over the whole valley, a recently privately-funded project by five U.S. citizens in order to facilitate the construction and expansion of Ma’ale Adumim and its future sister neighborhoods.”

    So these 5 US citizens are supporting illegal, thieving terrorists?

    “The olive trees looked lonely and oddly contained in their prim roundabouts and, as the tall blocks of Palestinian homes with their black water barrels and beige rooftops came closer into view, I saw that there is nothing beautiful about Occupation, even on the surface; even if it looks clean, it is ultimately covered in grime.”

    Yes, there is grime. But the crimes perpetrated by the Occupation Zionists are much, much worse than any grime.

    Thank you, Nadya.

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen
      November 8, 2013, 8:51 am

      just ..I just finished the post and was going to comment on those sentences. But you all ready did so. What I thought about is how that money given to build this illegal Israeli police station is more than likely tax deductible here in the states. Yes the Zionist figured out how to make their bloody illegal funding of these settlements tax deductible. But then U.S. tax payers money fund these illegal settlements.

      To think that the olive trees planted are likely dug up from Palestinian lands in one area and then planted on illegally occupied Palestinian land in another. Wrenching. I know so many people who own large tracks of land in south eastern Ohio and in Colorado (ok stolen land too)who would want to rip the heads off of illegal settlers and the Israeli government for these horrific activities. Yes let’s be honest for most people if you had your home, land, family heirloom olive trees forcefully stolen from you…what would you want to do to those who stole from you.

      It drives me crazy calling apartheid roads (E1 etc) stolen pieces of land Area A,B,C under an apartheid system what Israel tells the world to call this stolen land. This is apartheid no way around it. Call it what it is.

  5. Walid
    Walid
    November 7, 2013, 8:15 pm

    The part the hurt the most was about the water that’s causing all these flowers and plants to bloom, all these fountains and olympic-sized pools for the squatters coming at the expense of the Palestinians living in a desert-like environment because they are being deprived of their own water because Israelis are stealing it.

    Didn’t Phil file a similar report from inside a settlement snake pit a couple of years ago? The description of the centuries-old olive trees uprooted from Palestinian olive orchards and re-planted in settler roundabouts reminded me of it; I think he was taken on such a tour by Jeff Halper.

    Great report, Nadya, thanks.

    • Kathleen
      Kathleen
      November 8, 2013, 8:54 am

      Deceased Palestinian human rights activist Art Gish (farmer) and so many others have been talking about the horrific crime of ripping these olive trees off by these Israeli thieves for decades. These actions are simply wicked and despicable. So important that more and more people are hearing these critical eye witness stories. Thank you so much Nadya. Folks should share this story around the web

      While the U.S. MSM will not touch these stories unless of course the story had to do with Iran, Syria etc. So going lateral on the web and elsewhere is so important. Get these stories out there, fb page, linking on different sites etc, writing to Reps, calling into national radio shows and Cspan’s Washington Journal. Telling Nadya’s and others stories about the horrific injustices being committed against Palestinians at your church, synagogue, mosque, universities Get these stories out there

  6. kayq
    kayq
    November 7, 2013, 10:34 pm

    Thanks Nadya. It’s indeed such a shame that the “beauty” of the settlements is indeed superficial

  7. alan
    alan
    November 8, 2013, 6:25 am

    “…“Separation Barrier” that designates the beginning of the West Bank.”

    Sorry love, you’ve swallowed some bs. there. Otherwise, great – thanks!

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