How one Palestinian spring became a leisure spot for Israelis only

Posted on Oct 25, 2019

Forwarded by Samia Khoury of East Jerusalem with this note:  How would you feel if you wake up one morning and find you have no access to the swimming pool in your back yard, furthermore it is filled with strangers protected by armed people so as not to allow you to take a dive in your own pool and enjoy the garden of your own house?  This is happening every day in the Palestinian Occupied Territories.  Yet we continue to hear politicians condemning those actions, but no rhetoric without action can restore justice.

October 22, 2019 – The spring that once belonged to the Palestinian village of Walajeh is now off limits to its residents. As of last week, it is open to Israeli settlers alone.

by Aviv Tatarsky | +972 Magazine

Image: Israelis swim in a spring belonging to the destroyed Palestinian village of Walajeh, near Jerusalem. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Israelis swim in a spring belonging to the destroyed Palestinian village of Walajeh, near Jerusalem. (Anne Paq/Activestills.org)

Hundreds of Israelis arrived at Ein Haniya, a natural spring on the outskirts of Jerusalem and the Palestinian village of al-Walajeh, last Tuesday, one of the early days of the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot. The site is part of a national park, technically open to all, which Israel declared on Walajeh’s agricultural land.

Less than a mile away from Ein Haniya, however, idled an Israeli Border Police jeep, stationed to ensure that no Palestinians could approach the spring. At the height of the olive harvest season, Palestinians were completely shut out from the site — including the residents of Walajeh, to whom 1,200 dunam (297 acres) of the barred area belongs.

Border Police officers have arrested several Palestinian farmers in their own olive orchards over the past few weeks. The decision to operate Ein Haniya as a leisure area for Israelis is directly linked to the expulsion of Walajeh’s residents from their own lands and from the village’s own spring.

The Bible’s strongest stories, most famously “Naboth’s Vineyard” and “The Poor Man’s Lamb,” call out against the abuse of power, including dispossession by the strong. Still, dispossession is the reality in this land, certainly since 1948. Jerusalem itself, on both sides of the Green Line, sprawls across sites of dispossession. At Ein Haniya on Tuesday, I saw this phenomenon in real time: how, in under an hour, Israeli visitors entered the site and as if it were the most natural thing in the world, yet another piece of Palestinian land turned Israeli.

The separation barrier started encroaching on Walajeh in 2010, when Israel placed a fence along a route designed to expropriate the village’s land. Instead of being built along the Green Line, based on the 1949 armistice agreements, the fence stretches close to Walajeh’s residential areas, cutting them off from 1,200 dunams of pastures and olive groves — private land that belongs to the villagers. Ein Haniya is at the heart of this sequestered area, and is also a central part of Walajeh’s heritage.

As the barrier was being built, the Jerusalem Municipality and the Nature and Parks Authority advanced a plan that would eventually see Walajeh’s agricultural land declared a national park called Nahal Refaim. The planning documentation contains no mention of the Palestinians who own the land and who cultivate the olive terraces — the same terraces whose beauty is cited as the reason for declaring the land they’re on as a national park. Instead, the plan announces that the site “will be used for the benefit of Jerusalem residents.”

The throngs of Israelis at Ein Haniya on Tuesday did indeed benefit from the spring, utterly indifferent to the fact that they were enjoying themselves on stolen land. They were blind, too, to the prominent separation fence that was about 70 meters (230 feet) above them and, behind it, the residents of Walajeh who had been excluded from the site.

I watched a father hugging his baby son. I was unable to reconcile the gap between this expression of a most innocent love, and the fact that they were taking part in land theft, denial of the villagers’ livelihood, and cultural destruction.