Financing Spat Blocks Opening of Jerusalem Site That Would Keep Out Palestinians

For now a barbed-wire fence surrounds the Ein Hanya spring; later the plan is for a roadblock to go up as well

The Ein Hanya spring in south Jerusalem, August 2018.
Emil Salman

Eight months after the dedication, the Ein Hanya spring in Jerusalem is still closed to the public and in a state of neglect, with government agencies fighting over the source of the site’s operating budget.

The place is controversial because the spring, 300 feet over the Green Line, is due to be blocked by a fence and roadblock to keep out Palestinian villagers who have frequented the spot for centuries.

The police have demanded the installation of the roadblock before the site is opened to the public.

As part of the financing spat, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority wants additional funds from the city and the Jerusalem Development Authority for maintenance. The south Jerusalem site includes a large spring, two big pools, a water system, antiquities and terraces.

It was restored over four years at a cost of 14 million shekels ($3.8 million) by the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry and the Israel Antiquities Authority. It was supposed to be a major attraction in the Jerusalem Hills, particularly in the summer.

“Ein Hanya is a wonderful example of the many projects we are carrying out at the Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage Ministry,” Zeev Elkin, minister of Jerusalem affairs and heritage, promised at the dedication. “The site will let tourists, Jerusalem residents and others enjoy a lovely spot with a unique view of the Jerusalem Hills at no cost to them.”

At the January ceremony, the site was transferred from the antiquities agency to the parks authority, which was supposed to open it. The opening, originally scheduled for April 1 for Passover, was postponed to July 1, the start of the school summer vacation. Now it seems the opening will not happen before the Sukkot holiday in late September.

For now a barbed-wire fence surrounds the site. Sometimes the Border Police stop visitors from entering.

The plan is to allow water from the spring to fill the two big pools and then flow into a third pool meant for watering the flocks and the crops of the adjacent village al-Walajah. That water now merely spills into the nearby wadi. The big pools were drained so as not to attract visitors to the site.

“The place is very dear to me, and it pains me physically to see it like this,” said Iris Tal, the landscape architect who was responsible for the development plans.

“The site will be opened when the final safety and security preparations are completed,” parks authority said, with an official adding that although the dedication was in January, the parks authority was given responsibility for the site months later.

In a statement, the Jerusalem Development Authority said it completed its work on the site and transferred it to the parks authority, which was responsible for opening it.

Yuval Baruch, the Jerusalem District archaeologist of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said his agency completed its work — the excavation and restoration — and the site was handed over.

“The authority completed its mission,” he said. “This is an exemplary site, one of the most important in Jerusalem. We, like the whole Jewish people, are waiting for the opening, and we too wonder why the relevant agencies aren’t hurrying to open it.”