Many residents of the Palestinian village of Wadi Fukin, west of Bethlehem, did not sleep much Friday night. As on every rainy day this winter, they dug ditches and built mud and stone barricades, as they sought to hold back the strong currents of water streaming into the village that threatened to flood their homes.
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The floods in Wadi Fukin are a recent, man-made phenomenon. They are related to the expansion of the community of Tzur Hadassah, which is located above the village, and where a new neighborhood has been built over the past few years. The construction turned natural areas that absorbed rainwater and slowed their flow into asphalt and concrete, which funnel the water quickly down the mountain towards the village.
Another problem, no less serious, is that the water is no longer sinking into the ground to feed the Wadi Fukin springs, which residents use for irrigation throughout the year. The residents report a sharp decline in the springs’ water flow.
On Monday the Jerusalem Regional Planning Commission is to discuss the Tzur Hadassah master plan, which calls for tripling the community’s size. Under the plan, two additional neighborhoods with thousands of homes will be built that are expected to make the flooding worse and dry up the springs even further. Since the Green Line passes between Tzur Hadassah and Wadi Fukin, and a separation barrier is planned there, opponents of the plan say the Housing Ministry is ignoring the expansion’s consequences for the Palestinian village. The ministry claims it has carried out all necessary geological tests.
The 1,300 residents of Wadi Fukin are wedged between two large Jewish population centers – Tzur Hadassah to the west, and the ultra-Orthodox settlement of Betar Ilit to the east. The village has an exceptional history: Though its inhabitants were expelled and the village destroyed during the War of Independence and the postwar cross-border operations, in 1972 Israel, in a rare move, allowed the residents to return and rebuild. Residents have claimed the reason was to vacate space in the Deheisheh refugee camp.
The village is known for its 11 springs and rainwater pools that provide for the local agriculture. In recent years, though, sewage from Betar Ilit has flooded the village’s fields several times, and there has been occasional harassment by settlers or visitors to the springs and ponds. However, the flooding from Tzur Hadassah and the dehydration of the springs are the biggest problems.
“We were 16 people working almost all night. We made piles of stones and mud, and we took the old people out of their homes and moved them,” says resident Imad Manasra of the Friday night efforts.
“It was like a river,” adds Wahel Haruf, whose house is in the path of the stream from Tzur Hadassah. “This time we managed to dig a ditch and the water did not enter the house.”
Opponents of the master plan include the residents of Wadi Fukin as well as residents of Tzur Hadassah, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel and the Eco-Peace organization. They are basing their position partly on an evaluation conducted by the government’s Hydrological Service, which said, “From an initial analysis it can be estimated that implementing the plan could cause damage to the regional and local groundwater system.”
According to evidence gathered by Eco-Peace over the past two years, there has already been a 50 percent decline in the water supply to the wadi’s springs, and the amount of water in the village’s main spring has declined by two thirds in the last three years. Part of the decline can be explained by drought, but some is apparently related to the construction of the new neighborhood.
One Housing Ministry proposal to solve the runoff problem is to build a kilometer-long canal that will catch the water between Tzur Hadassah and Wadi Fukin and funnel it into the stream under the village. Opponents point out that the canal won’t solve the problem of the springs, and since it would be beyond the Green Line and the planned separation fence it will never be maintained properly. Opponents are suggesting construction of flood areas from which water would be injected into cracks, caves and natural openings in an attempt to revive the natural spring system.
The Housing Ministry said in response: “Under the master plan for the Jerusalem District, the ministry is required to advance an outline plan for 20,000 people in the community of Tzur Hadassah, which will regulate the connection between the existing and planned neighborhoods, as well as the transportation connections, open areas, drainage solutions and allocations for public needs within Tzur Hadassah and its environs. The plan includes a drainage plan that reduces the upper runoff and prevents harm to the community of Fukin even during the stages of implementation.”