Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Jerusalem "Settlements"- What Are They?

Having spent a reasonable amount of time in Jerusalem and the adjacent areas of the West Bank, I get the feeling that there is a lot of misunderstanding on both sides on the issue of "settlements" in the Jerusalem area, and I would like to write about what I think I know.

I want to say first of all, that nothing I have to say here is in any way intended to be a defense of Benjamin Netanyahu, who I have always believed to be an American-style right wing warmongering demagogue more like Newt Gingrich or Tom DeLay than anyone Israelis are used to seeing.

To explain my viewpoint, I would like to refer to a couple of maps of Jerusalem. You may need to click on them to see them properly, as they have a lot of detail.

The first map I would like you to see is this one, from the early 1880's The colored parts represent the old city, lying behind walls which had enclosed relatively the same area since the first century A.D. As you can see, as late as this time, only a hundred and thirty years ago, there was almost nothing of Jerusalem outside the old city and adjacent areas such as the Mount of Olives, across from the temple mount. Thus, very little of what exists outside of this area really can be considered as part of the holy Jerusalem revered by all three major monotheistic religions.

Next, let's turn to a current map of Jerusalem:

The tan area on this map represents the boundaries of the current built-up area of Jerusalem. The dark blue area is the old city. The current dividing line between East and West Jerusalem runs in an approximate north-south line through the old city.

Here is the funny thing about Jerusalem: It is one of the oldest cities in the world, yet except for a small part of it, it is more contemporary with American cities than the great cities of Europe or Asia. No one can really claim that his ancestors have long lived in the greatest part of Jerusalem.

Now, let's look at this third map:

Israeli "settlements" are shown in this map in the darker blue color. Also shown is the Israeli constructed ring road, designed to eliminate some of the absolutely maddening driving conditions that exist in the city. I can tell you that, even with the ring road, driving for more than a few minutes in Jerusalem is enough to drive a person into deep insanity.

Well, as you can see from this map, most of these developments are inside the ring road, or just outside of it. Remember that Jerusalem is built on top of rather steep hills, and most of the land shown as undeveloped inside the ring road is nearly unbuildable.

Now let's look at a couple of pictures of one of the largest of these developments, Maale Adumim. First is a view of it:

I wonder if your reaction to this is the same as mine was when I saw things like this in real life- this is hardly what I expected in the way of what you would call a "settlement."

Now, here is another picture:

This is a view looking back toward Jerusalem from Maale Adumim. What you see in the foreground is what is generally described as an Arab "village." In the background is Mount Scopus.

What point am I trying to make here? Words are powerful things. The word "village" implies that this area is somewhere that people have lived for a long, long time, and have deep family roots, while the word "settlement" carries heavy implications from the time of colonialism, and conveys the notion that someone has come along and just plopped themselves down on someone else's territory.

We actually have a far more appropriate name for such areas here in America. These both are neither settlements nor villages- they are suburbs.

I want to state that I am opposed to a great majority of the Jewish settlements in the West Bank (and yes, I have been to a number of them too.) But these areas around Jerusalem are not in the same category at all, and treating them as hostile incursions only serves to prolong the stubbornness of parties on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We should deal with the settlements that really are a part of an intransigent, irredentist religious movement, and not treat the natural growth of a modern city as some sort of abomination.


M. Bouffant said...

Believe me, I'm not taking sides here, but I chanced across this today, which would appear to be totally on topic.

Infidel753 said...

Great post. Most of this "settlement" activity is actually urban sprawl around Jerusalem and also Tel Aviv, which is close to the West Bank because the Israeli coastal plain is so narrow. The Maale Adumim picture shows that -- this is not an armed encampment, but could be a suburb anywhere in the US southwest. People need to distinguish between modern Jerusalem and the small enclave of the "holy city". Nobody makes a religious issue of suburban development around Rome because of the Vatican.

There are a lot of distortions about Israel out there; I posted about this recently also.

M. Bouffant: I read Andrew Sullivan regularly, and for some reason he has recently developed a weird and obsessive hostility to Israel, so his version of things needs to be read in that light. At times it makes his blog almost too nauseating to read. I have no idea why -- Israel is the only country in the region he could set foot in without his open homosexuality putting him in danger.

Green Eagle said...

I don't want to take sides either. I am reflecting the impression I got when I saw these developments for myself. I want to reiterate that the land on which Jerusalem is built is so convoluted that it is hard to really understand the relationship of these areas to each other. Even the picture I showed here, looking back toward Jerusalem from Maale Adumim, appears to have been taken with a wide angle lens, which doesn't adequately reflect how close these things are to each other.

Anonymous said...

"I'm not taking sides" my ass!
The Crusaders lasted 200 years, the Turks 400 years, the British 50 years, and now Israel. That, too, shall pass!

Anonymous said...

Are you connected to Green Eagle Heritage Foundation?

Green Eagle said...

No. I was unable to find anything with this exact name online anywhere, so I don't even know what it is, but in any event, I have nothing to do with it.