Assaf Maman was deliberating this week about what to call his new outpost. “I want something that has a communal, rural feel,” he said, and suggested that maybe Haaretz would like to come up with a name. Maman was supervising the positioning of mobile homes on the lovely terraced hills near the settlement of Adam, where five families plan to live because they can’t afford a home anywhere else.
- The Israeli volunteers who set out to protect Palestinian farms
- The Israeli photojournalist collective that foments social change
- The Arab lawmaker vying to be prime minister of a utopian Israeli-Palestinian state
Maman grew up in Jerusalem’s Katamonim neighborhood and until recently did earthwork and collected garbage for the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council. He is having a hard time supporting his family. “I have four kids and no money,” he said. “In Jerusalem there’s a housing crisis and it’s crowded. Here there’s room and I can start something from scratch, a village of Arabs and Jews.”
He says he has asked other families to join him and some have expressed interest. He brought a small bulldozer, straightened a plot and has started to build his home.
The settlement of Adam, also known as Geva Binyamin, is only a 10-minute drive from Jerusalem and has attracted numerous families who work in the capital but can’t afford to live there. Maman is setting up his new outpost only a few meters from Adam’s gate. One of the mobile homes, larger than the rest, is already faced with stone and has trees planted around it – a virtual mansion.
One of Maman’s partners in setting up the outpost said he had once lived in the adjacent settlement but could no longer afford to do so and sought an alternative. Erecting a structure in the outpost will cost only 150,000 shekels (about $41,000). His wife and seven children don’t actually live there yet, but come after school to spend time there. “They feel connected to the place,” he said. Meanwhile, the future residents take turns guarding the couple of mobile homes already erected and those in the process of being set up.
One morning this week there were five men working at the site, three of them Palestinians from the nearby town of Hizme. They said they’d be happy to live at the site. “Why not, actually?” said one, though he didn’t sound terribly convincing.
Maman said he was also looking for Christian families, so that this could be the first multi-religious outpost in the territories. He also plans to open a bilingual school. “I live in peace with my neighbors, and I hope that they will come to live with us here – Jews, Arabs, Christians, Druze. I think the fact that we are secular and have good relations with the neighbors from the villages in the area is what bothers the settlers.”
Indeed, Adam residents aren’t pleased with the new project. “It’s an eyesore,” said one of them.
This resident thinks the outpost builders knew exactly where to put the new structures so there would be no danger of eviction by the Civil Administration, and speculates that they may have had inside information. Indeed, the new outpost is not being erected on private Palestinian land, and while Maman’s group has no building permit, there is an approved master plan for the area. As a result, the Civil Administration has no authority to evict the group; only the Binyamin Regional Council can do so, and locals don’t believe it will be too eager to destroy an outpost.
The angry Adam resident had some other complaints.
“People who paid a million shekels suddenly see others getting a dunam or two for free,” he said. “In our area there are no illegal outposts, everything is done with the approval of the Civil Administration, the Housing Ministry and all the other agencies. Now we can wake up one morning and find a hundred families there.”
Sources in the Binyamin Regional Council said they were in fact working to evacuate the new outpost; Haaretz has learned that the police have been contacted and stop-work orders issued.
Peace Now said, “Although only recently the prime minister committed to not allowing the building of new outposts, Netanyahu and settler leaders are erecting a new outpost in the heart of the territories and east of the separation barrier. What’s special about this outpost is the cynical exploitation of the financial distress of the new outpost’s residents, who have learned that in the settlements and the outposts you can get free land and build illegal residences as long as they are working to destroy the possibility of reaching a future peace solution with the Palestinians.”