Community sees itself as suburb of Jerusalem
Mishor Adumim Industrial Zone, West Bank – It is all green on a factory rooftop in this industrial zone of Ma’alei Adumim, a community built in the West Bank just a few miles east of Jerusalem. Called Aleinu (Our Leaves) the factory uses hydroponics to grow three million plants a year including several kinds of lettuce, kale, mint, oregano and thyme.
The water is treated waste water, and the plants are grown in “mineral wool”, spongy cubes. It is all automated, and all pesticides are organic. In one room, six Palestinian women are packing bok choy to be delivered to Israeli supermarkets. Of the 17 workers here, ten are Palestinians from the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
“This is a type of coexistence here – we are building something together,” Michael Andrshuak, a Russian-born graphic designer turned urban farmer told The Media Line. “Several of the workers have been here with us from the beginning.”
Andrshuak, with a scruffy beard, and three earrings in each ear, moved to Ma’aleim Adumim from Latvia in 1991. He says that because Aleinu is in an industrial zone attached to a Jewish settlement, he needs special permits for the Palestinian workers. If Israel annexes Ma’alei Adumim, as a bill put forward this week by two members of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, he may need even more permits for his workers to enter Israel.
There are about 300 businesses in this industrial zone, and many of them employ Arab workers. It is not clear what effect annexing this industrial zone to Israel would have.
What is clear is that the majority of Israelis who live in Ma’alei Adumim say it’s about time that they become part of the Jewish state.
“We pay taxes and we serve in the army but we are not equal citizens,” Deputy Mayor Guy Yifrach told The Media Line. “There has been no construction for the past seven years – it is totally frozen.”
Yifrach is 33 years old, the same age as Ma’alei Adumim. He proudly says he was the second baby treated in the local well-baby clinic. Today he lives in a rental apartment because the Israeli Defense Ministry has not allowed residents here to build here or in most other parts of the West Bank, which the Palestinians say must be part of a future Palestinian state.
In all of the West Bank, which Israel has controlled since 1967 but has not annexed, any building must be approved by the Israeli Defense Ministry, which has orders not to allow new building. City officials say they need 5000 new apartments to meet demand.
Residents here say Ma’alei Adumim is fundamentally different from other parts of the West Bank. It was established by then Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the leader of the center-left Labor Party who later became the Prime Minister who signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians. The Geneva Convention, a dovish Israeli-Palestinian initiative calls for Ma’alei Adumim to be part of Israel in any permanent agreement. A recent poll found that 78 percent of Israelis favor annexing the city of 41,000 to Israel.
Ma’alei Adumim certainly feels like a suburb of Jerusalem. Rivkah Adler, an American-born writer who lives here, says there are 70 buses a day to Jerusalem from the bus stop beside her home.
“We wanted to be near Jerusalem but not in Jerusalem,” she told The Media Line over coffee at the local mall. “We wanted a lot of English speakers and an affordable apartment. We found it all here.”
She bought her apartment in the neighborhood of Mitzpeh Nevo, which has a large population of Modern Orthodox English speakers called “anglos” in Israeli parlance, in 2003, and came frequently to visit. She moved here permanently in 2010 and moderate a 900-member Facebook group of English-speakers in Ma’alei Adumim.
She bought her four-bedroom apartment for $167,000 and it’s worth double that today.
“It’s an extremely well-run city,” she said. “After we moved here, the mayor met with a group of new immigrants and asked us what needs to be improved. My biggest complaint was that they don’t empty the paper recycling container often enough.”
To Palestinians, however, Ma’alei Adumim is no different than any other settlement in the West Bank. They say that annexing Ma’alei Adumim to Israel makes an independent Palestinian state even less likely. Part of the settlement’s master plan is an Area called E-1, which currently houses only an Israeli police station. Palestinians say building on E-1 would cut a future Palestinian state in half.
“The bill for annexation is consistent with the Israeli government’s policy that supports the imposition of an apartheid regime rather than a two-state solution between Israel and Palestine,” Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesman for the PLO told The Media Line. “Whether this bill passes or not, the Israeli policies of annexation and forced displacement will continue.”
Abu Eid said an annexation of Ma’alei Adumim to Israel is the first step to Israel making all of Area C, which constitutes 62 percent of the West Bank. Area A, about 18 percent of the West bank, is made up of the Palestinian cities under total control of the Palestinian Authority, including Ramallah, Nablus and Bethlehem. Area B, mostly Palestinian villages, is under joint control, and Area C, which includes the 350,000 Jewish residents of the West Bank, not including east Jerusalem, is under sole Israeli control. Palestinians say that all of the West Bank, including Ma’alei Adumim, must be given to them as part of any future peace deal.