Jerusalem Reopens Natural Spring, but Not to Palestinians

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The Ein Hanya natural spring during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, October 15, 2019.
The Ein Hanya natural spring during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, October 15, 2019. Credit: Emil Salman

Police allowed a natural spring in southern Jerusalem to be opened to visitors on Tuesday, but on the explicit condition that Palestinians not be allowed to enter the site.

Consequently, the Ein Hanya spring was kept under heavy guard by the police and Border Police, which even closed the road leading to Palestinian towns. Hundreds of Israelis visited the site.

Ein Hanya is one of the largest and most important natural springs in the Jerusalem area. It is within Jerusalem’s municipal borders, but residents of the neighboring Palestinian village of Al-Walaja regularly visit it. Consequently, it was enjoyed by both Israelis and Palestinians for years before Israel decided to turn it into an official park.

The spring was officially inaugurated as a tourism site two years ago, but its opening has been repeatedly delayed, for two reasons. One was a dispute over whether entry fees should be charged. The other was the police’s demand that Palestinians not be allowed to enter.

Police have also demanded that the Ein Yael checkpoint be moved farther south, so that it would separate Palestinian towns from the spring. The estimated cost of moving the checkpoint is 12 million shekels ($3.4 million).

A few days ago, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the Jerusalem municipality announced that the site would open for three days during the week-long Sukkot holiday. But after that, it will close again until the checkpoint is moved.

Over the past few days, police have stepped up enforcement against Palestinian farmers seeking to work land near the spring, and on Tuesday, they even forced a farmer to leave.

A view of Ein Hanya spring and the surrounding hills of Al-Walaja, 2018. Credit: Emil Salman

Shaul Goldstein, the nature authority’s director, said his agency has no objection to Palestinians visiting the spring, nor does it have any interest in moving the checkpoint.

“We even proposed to the defense establishment that a back gate be opened so Al-Walaja residents could come,” he said. “I’m not in favor of excluding Palestinians, especially since they don’t have so many other places to go.”

Nevertheless, he added, since Ein Hanya is located in Jerusalem, from the defense establishment’s perspective, any Palestinian who goes there is in the capital illegally.

The Israel Police responded: "The spring is within the municipal area of the city of Jerusalem, which Palestinians are only authorized to enter with a permit, as is the case at the other security crossings around the country." The police noted that the security forces issued a general closure order during the current Sukkot holiday barring the entry of Palestinians including those with a permit. "Any attempt to present the factual reality otherwise and to link it to the police is baseless," the police said.

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