The Civil Administration announced this week that at the beginning of May, drilling and inspection work will begin for the preparation of paving a road between el-Azariya and a-Za’im, near the settlement of Ma’ale Adumim.
The road is of great importance for the government of Israel to fulfill its intentions to annex Ma’ale Adumim to Israel and to promote the construction plan in E1. For this reason, former Defense Minister Naftali Bennett called it the “Sovereignty Road” at the time.
In practice, the road will enable the government of Israel to close off a vast area in the heart of the West Bank to Palestinians by diverting all Palestinian traffic to it. For this reason, the Civil Administration refers to the road as the “Fabric of Life Road” because its purpose is to allow Palestinians to maintain their “fabric of life” after Israel closes off the entire area to them. Consequently, the paving of the road will create a separate road system for Israelis and Palestinians (an “apartheid” road).
Peace Now: “The eviction of the community of Khan al-Ahmar, as well as dozens of other Palestinian communities in the area, will now be enabled by the planned road. The road will enable the closing of a vast area in the heart of the West Bank, including E1, from Palestinians and thus effectively annexing the area to Israel.”
In March 2020, when Naftali Bennett served as Israel’s Minister of Defense, he approved the promotion of a road for Palestinians only between the Palestinian towns of el-Azariya and a-Za’im from the east to Jerusalem. The road is portrayed as a “fabric of life” for Palestinians and is intended to allow Palestinian vehicles to travel from the southern part of the West Bank to the north without passing through the “Ma’ale Adumim settlement bloc.” Currently, Palestinian traffic from the southern part of the West Bank to the north (or vis versa) travels eastward from Bethlehem towards Abu Dis and el-Azariya, then turns eastward along the Ma’ale Adumim settlement, then northward towards Hizma and from there to Ramallah. Because Palestinians have no other path that enables them to travel in the area, that, in effect, divides the West Bank into two, the governments of Israel have abstained from building the planned separation barrier around the “Ma’ale Adumim settlement bloc”. Once the new road will be ready, the government of Israel will be able to divert Palestinian traffic to it, and thus close off the entire region from Palestinian access, effectively annexing the Ma’ale Adumim area (consisting of E1, many other settlements and outposts, as well as large portions of additional Palestinian lands).
Furthermore, the creation of a separate road system for Israelis and Palestinians would allow the security system to close off the Ma’ale Adumim area to Palestinians without building the planned separation barrier there. In practice, this would also allow for the removal of the a-Za’im checkpoint between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem and move it eastward outside the Ma’ale Adumim area (near the Good Samaritan site), east of the Kfar Adumim settlement. Removing the checkpoint would enable continuous movement for Ma’ale Adumim settlers and the surrounding area to Jerusalem without security checks and traffic congestion, and without the feeling that they are living outside the borders of the State of Israel.
The “bypass road”
Officially, the planned road is defined as a “security road”. The excuse for its construction is the intention to build the separation barrier around the Ma’ale Adumim settlement bloc, which is defined as a security need. As a derivative of this, there is a need to build a road that will allow the continuation of the “fabric of life” of the Palestinians travelling from north to south of the West Bank.
Furthermore, by being defined as a security road, it is not brought for planning approval in the Higher Planning Council of the Civil Administration. Subsequently, the public is not given the opportunity to object to it, as in a formal planning process.
Seemingly, this is because the State of Israel has no official authority to plan this road as significant parts of it pass through Area B (see map). According to the 1995 Interim Agreement with the Palestinians, planning authority in it is given only to the Palestinian Authority. To bypass this, the Ministry of Defense chose to define the road as a security road. The lands taken for its construction do not go through a process of seizure for public purposes, but rather a process of military seizure, and therefore the planning process is done behind closed doors.
Current Status of the Road: Budget in Place, Preparations Underway for Execution
Since no public planning process was carried out and the road is being planned as a security procedure, news of the intention to pave the road relied mainly on rumors, statements to the press, and statements by politicians. The municipalities of el-Azariya, Abu Dis, as-Sawahira ash Sharqiya, and Palestinian residents from the area petitioned the High Court about two years ago against the intention to pave the road (HCJ 2371/21). In response, the state did not agree to assign the road an orderly planning process, but it committed to informing the petitioners in advance of any intention to proceed with the road construction, and the petition was dismissed. A week ago, the Civil Administration notified the attorney representing the petitioners that drilling work would be carried out in the field during May as part of the preparation for the road paving.
The drilling work is part of the preparation work for implementing the paving (referred to within the Ministry of Transportation as “detailed planning”). The drilling will allow engineers to assess the soil quality along the route of the road and adjust the required materials, angles, retaining walls, etc. Generally, this stage is a very advanced stage before starting work on the ground.
It is worth noting that two years ago, the northern part of this “fabric of life” road (also known as the “apartheid road”) was opened, which drew harsh international criticism.
The impact on Palestinian communities
The construction of the road will have a deadly impact for the future Palestinian State and on the entire area in the heart of the West Bank. Nevertheless, it will also have a fatal and direct impact on Palestinians living near or within the area.
Dozens of Bedouin communities residing within the area will be cut off from the rest of the West Bank, essentially by not having any access road to link them with the rest of the West Bank.
Moreover, Wadi Jimel and Jabal Al-Baba, communities living near the road, which consist of hundreds of Palestinians, will be cut off from their surroundings due to the construction of the road. It is unknown how they will be able to cross the road that will be built and reach their own homes.
Furthermore, the road passes over established houses in the community of Zra’ayah, which is located in Area B, meaning that these houses will be demolished. The demolition of the houses, like the entire process, is carried out by virtue of military seizure orders, according to which the land temporarily passes to the army, and it is authorized to act for security needs (there is no issue of planning and construction laws here as mentioned above).
The goal: Apartheid and Annexation
In a statement issued by the mayor of Ma’ale Adumim about two years ago, he explicitly and without diplomatic language revealed the true goals of the road: to allow for the closure of a vast area in the center of the West Bank from Palestinians by diverting Palestinians to the road, and thus to make the space an integral part of the State of Israel.
The message from the mayor of Ma’ale Adumim is a good way to meet in explicit and blunt language the policy of separation and apartheid behind the plan, revealing Israel’s true intention to transform the central part of the West Bank from a Palestinian region to an Israeli annexed one, subsequently also undermining a future Palestinian State.
Regarding changes in the ground, the message states that the road “will lead to the closure of the entrance to el-Azariya from our city [Ma’ale Adumim], will advance the movement of the security fence between us and el-Azariya and will allow for the transfer of the a-Za’im checkpoint towards Mishor Adumim”. Specifically, Ma’ale Adumim will be physically separated from the Palestinian territory by a fence, and there will be no need for the checkpoint currently located between Ma’ale Adumim and Jerusalem to prevent Palestinians from entering Israel. The checkpoint will move eastward so that Ma’ale Adumim residents will not have to pass through a crossing on their way to Jerusalem every day, and Palestinians will be prevented from the space between Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim and further east of it.
“This is a separate road for Palestinians in the E1 area whose purpose is to separate the transportation route between the Palestinian and Israeli population in the area, so that Palestinian vehicles can move without passing through Ma’ale Adumim Bloc, near Jewish settlements.” In other words, the purpose of the road is to separate the Palestinian movement, which will travel on one road, from Israelis and “Jewish settlements”, whom will travel on other roads in a separate space. Palestinians will be prevented access to what is referred to as the “Ma’ale Adumim bloc.”
The message continues and explains the political implications of the road: “In the political sphere, the road will connect Jerusalem and Ma’ale Adumim and enable Jewish settlement construction in the E1 area.”
The new road is intended to allow Palestinians to bypass the “Ma’aleh Adumim bloc” without entering it, under the wall’s beams, along the separation wall, and without entering the “Israeli” side of the wall, as in a kind of tunnel. The implication is that once the road is paved, Israel will be able to argue that construction in E1, and the construction of the separation wall around the “Ma’aleh Adumim bloc,” does not undermine the area because Palestinians have an alternative road. This claim, of course, is refuted because a narrow strip of road connecting separate territorial parts (a “transportation corridor”) does not meet the need for a territorial continuity that would respond to the development and existential needs of East Jerusalem and the Palestinian metropolitan area. Without these areas, an independent Palestinian state cannot emerge and prosper, and therefore a solution of two states will not be possible. For further expansion on the meaning of construction in E1 and Gush Adumim, see Peace Now and Ir Amim’s objections to the plan in E1.
The two-state solution depends on the possibility of establishing a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. The heart of the future Palestinian state, geographically, economically, and culturally, lies in the metropolitan area between Ramallah, East Jerusalem, and Bethlehem. The only remaining potential development areas for the metropolitan area are the lands east of Jerusalem, in the same area where Israel seeks to build the E1 settlement and create an Israeli territorial continuity from Jerusalem eastward that will bisect the West Bank in two.