Mar 18, 2010

Google Mapping the Israeli Colony in "East Jerusalem"

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It's a fun little game to look at the conflict over the expansion of the suburban colony in Ramat Shlomo with 1,600 units of new housing using Google Maps. In the satellite image, the development currently housing roughly 1,800 ultra-Orthodox Jews takes the round-and-winding form typical of hilltop settlements, extensively documented by Israeli architect Eyal Weizman through his research in collaboration with Israeli human rights group B'tselem. You can also see the beginning of two highways that extend north and east from Ramat Shlomo. These are Israeli bypass roads that reach into the West Bank and connect its network of settlements and military installations.

A terrible article in the New Republic claims this is all uncontested Israeli territory now because it was claimed by Israel in the final status Oslo agreements that the Palestinians in the end rejected. Not so. It's just that the apparatus of urban planning and territorial control that Israel has perfected has been able to exercise its will to build these suburban-style enclaves, which it afterward argues illustrate an established fact. Basically they're applying the Possession is Nine-Tenths of the Law rule. For evidence of the ongoing contestation of this area, here's a regularly updated list of newsworthy events published by B'tselem, including protests, arrests, confiscation of property, house demolitions, revoking of identity cards, and other tools of Israeli suburban development. For a reminder of how aggressive this process has been, take a look at this 2002 territorial map documenting the configuration of built-up Palestinian and Israeli areas.

If you zoom out, Google provides a nice dotted line that corresponds to the 1967 borders before the Israelis took over the area after the Six-Day War. To the upper right you can see some disorganized areas alongside a narrow north-south road. These are small Palestinian towns, and the narrow road is the one that Palestinians living in East Jerusalem and surrounding areas use to get to Ramallah. The thicker road to the far right is another Israeli highway that connects to the suburban colonies woven throughout the area and zigzags into the northwest.

If you zoom out a little further, in the bottom right corner you can see a highly concentrated mass of dwellings opposite another highway. That is the Shu'fat refugee camp, established by the UN in 1965. You can also see a series of these winding suburban-style Israeli colonial developments on the right side of the highway. When you travel on the Israeli roads, they are constructed so that you don't see the Palestinian areas. The disorganized areas on left side of the road are all Palestinian, the round winding ones on the right are all Israeli settlements.

Scroll the map down and you see two more disorganized concentrations of inhabited areas. These are the al-Ram and Qalandya refugee camps. This is where the Israeli military checkpoints would stop you to check your papers if you were traveling on the Palestinian road to Ramallah. On the opposite side of the road to the lower right is another Israeli suburban colony.

The entire area we're talking about from the Israeli border to Qalandia checkpoint is about 5 miles long. Most of it, apart from the Qalandia and al-Ram refugee camps, is contained within the Israeli side of the separation wall begun after the Oslo talks collapsed. Since all of the Palestinians living in this area are not Israeli citizens, they are required to have special Jerusalem identity cards issued by the Israeli government to travel back and forth through the checkpoints into Jerusalem. This area is being identified as East Jerusalem, but it is only a part of Jerusalem by virtue of having been annexed and built up with these suburban enclaves occupying the higher ground and connected to Jerusalem by Israeli highways that bypass the Palestinian villages in the valley between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

I did some reporting in Jerusalem in July 2002 for an article on the mapping and planning of West Bank settlements and went on daily trips into the West Bank to meet up with Palestinian architects and Israeli activists on either side. At the time Israel was gradually reoccupying the areas it had ceded control of during the Oslo peace process, which were otherwise surrounded by these informal border posts. A checkpoint is basically a line of concrete blocks and sandbags behind which rows of Israeli soldiers check the passports and papers of Palestinians as they travel between towns. Here's a shot of the Qalandya checkpoint in 2002.

The areas where Palestinians lived were therefore all turned into prison camp-like areas that required Israeli permission to move between, and permission could be refused for any reason, or for no reason at all. Here's a shot of the checkpoint at Bir Zeit, just north of Ramallah, where a bunch of young Palestinians were stopped while their passports were examined and checked against wanted lists.

We hung out there for a few hours, and the young men were gradually moving closer to the solders out of impatience. A soldier came out and told them to back off, then shot a tear gas grenade. One guy got hit in the leg by the canister.

The soldiers were usually hostile in their tone, especially to me, someone with a recognizably Ashkenazi Jewish name and an American passport. It was not generally taken kindly to be going into the Palestinian areas. This guy was an older soldier though, and he was laughing at me because I have a mustache in my passport photo.

At the airport coming in and out of Israel, admitting to visiting the Palestinian territories was equivalent to admitting you were among the highest security threats to the state, and it meant enduring long interrogations by security officials, having your luggage rifled through piece by piece, and possibly having your computer taken away from you to be disassembled and examined. However, at the time there were constant suicide bombings, including this one in the French Hill area near Ramat Shlomo. These guys are cleaning up body parts and pieces of skin and putting them in bags, and spray washing the wall near a bus stop that had been attacked a few hours earlier.

Please let's not go back to those days.


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