Springwater continues to be vital to Palestinian farmers, but recently, at the settlers' initiative, many springs on the other side of the Green Line have been turned into tourism sites from which the Palestinians are barred. Hebrew-language signs have been posted near many springs; some places have become memorial sites for settlers killed in terror attacks or during military service.
Brown signs dot Samaria's roads bearing the Hebrew name of a nearby spring. This name is likely to appear on the Springs Route's site list on a tourist map of local councils such as Mateh Binyamin in southern Samaria.
Near the settlement of Talmon, which can be entered through guarded gates, a sign points to a site called Tal Springs. While a reporter visited this site, a settler appeared with a herd of goats, claiming he was in charge of the area and every visit must be coordinated with him.
"Thanks to me you don't see any Arabs here," he said. At a nearby spring, which was added to the list of tourism sites, it was made clear that the area's non-Jewish residents are not wanted. A large sign on a building nearby declares "Death to the Arabs."
According to Dror Etkes, who has been researching construction in the settlements for several years, at least 25 springs are undergoing development for tourism. "Access to these springs has been blocked to the Palestinians, and there are dozens of other springs that the settlers have marked as targets for takeover," he says.
Sometimes a memorial
Some of the springs combine a tourist site and a memorial. At Ein Arik, also known as the Spring of Heroism, a sign memorializes two residents of the nearby settlement of Eli who were killed in a terror attack. "In the place where life was cut off, new life will grow," says the sign. "Living waters will bubble, water the soil and make it flourish. We will continue to build and to be built."
When this reporter visited the place, a picnic was being held by a group of American Christians who had come to work in the settlements. Nearby Oz's Spring has become the Harel Oz memorial site, named after a settler killed by Palestinians.
"He gave his life to redeem the Samaria hills, he made his way along the paths of the land," reads a sign. Settlers planted an orchard at the site and painted a seven-branched candelabra.
At many sites chairs and tables have been set up for tourists. At one of them, Amasa Spring near the settlement of Har Bracha, there are "wading pools," one for men and one for women. At some sites access roads have been built, new pools have been filled and part of the area has been paved.
Actually, most of these sites are not just springs, but part of an ancient agricultural system that includes pools and channels that divert the water to plots cultivated by Palestinians.
"The takeover of the springs, while blocking access to the Palestinians, is only one reflection of an extensive project being implemented by the settlers with the full backing of the state," says Etkes. "They are trying to appropriate for themselves points of unique historical and landscape value such as nature reserves, lookout points and archaeological sites."
The Civil Administration's spokesman was asked to discuss the situation at four springs where there has been very extensive tourism development: Amasa Spring, Ma'ayan Hagevura, Oz's Spring and Meir's Spring near Neveh Tzuf (Halamish ). According to the Civil Administration, the construction work and the posting of signs were done illegally, so law enforcement has been stepped up; in the case of Meir's Spring the signs were removed.
In addition, stop-work orders were issued at several springs where illegal construction was done. The enforcement activities the spokesman was talking about did not have much of an effect because all the sites are now full of signs and structures built by the settlers.
The Civil Administration spokesman says he has no knowledge of any problem regarding Palestinian farmers' access to the areas around the springs. The Civil Administration and army noted that the Meir's Spring area has been declared a closed military area on Fridays because of demonstrations by Palestinians against what they see as the takeover of a spring they used for agriculture.
The Binyamin Regional Council said in response: "During the past two years there has been tremendous development in tourism. As part of the development plans of the Tourism Ministry and the regional council, we are also repairing murky springs and turning them into enjoyable tourist sites.
"The springs are not the council's private property and they are open to the general public. For clear security reasons, and in the wake of past terror attacks, the Israel Defense Forces does not allow Arabs access to the springs near the settlements. Other springs are open and accessible to everyone."
The Tourism Ministry, on the other hand, called the issue a local initiative of the authorities in Judea and Samaria that the ministry does not fund or market. "The ministry welcomes any initiative that leads to an increase in ... tourism, on condition that it is done according to the law," the ministry said.
The IDF Spokesman's Office said that as a rule, the army does not prevent Israeli citizens from going to Area A (under Palestinian control ) and Palestinians from going to the areas of Jewish settlements. But depending on security developments, a reappraisal is sometimes done to prevent friction among the local people.