Settlers in the occupied territories have found a new way to embitter Palestinians' lives: converting springs and other water sources into memorials and tourism sites, as Zafrir Rinat reported in yesterday's Haaretz. As if it were not bad enough that Palestinians have no access to most of these springs since they are barred from using roads near the settlements, Israeli flags now fly over these water sources and they are walled off by fences and guards.
"Over the last two years there has been great development in the tourism field, and as part of the development program [sponsored] by the Tourism Ministry and the council, fouled springs are being turned into pleasant tourism sites ... and opened to the general public," the Mateh Binyamin Regional Council wrote in one of its publicity brochures.
But they aren't open to the entire public. The whitewashed language used to justify the new venture is only a prelude to this statement: "For obvious security reasons, and due to the terrorist attacks that have occurred in the past, the Israel Defense Forces do not allow Arabs access to springs near the settlements."
This is the time-honored system for abusing the Palestinians and driving them off their lands, under the settlers' dubious orchestration. First they set up a settlement (which is ostensibly legal ) or an outpost (which is illegal even by Israeli standards ). Next, the IDF, which is committed to ensuring the settlers' safety, refuses to allow Palestinians to travel in that vicinity.
But even this is not enough for the settlers, so they create provocations. For their takeover of the springs does not just deny the Palestinians access to water sources; it also, and primarily, creates a violent provocation. Putting up a sign that erases a spring's Arab name and invents a Hebrew name to replace it, or destroying an ancient building and putting up a memorial in its place in an attempt to create an exclusive Jewish settler memory, are provocations solely for the sake of provocation.
"Access to the springs is liable to change, in order to prevent violent friction," the IDF Spokesman's Office says. So the settlers are being rewarded twice over: Instead of punishing them for their Wild West behavior, the state is standing behind them and supplying them with protection and funding.
The Tourism Ministry must understand that such shameful colonialist acts are liable to make it hard to market Israel as an open democracy. The ministry would do better to reconsider the costs and benefits of this project and remove its aegis from the settlers' disruptive behavior.
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