The Spring of Disinheritance

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The Ein Hanya spring, 2018.

On Tuesday, after numerous delays, the site of Ein Hanya, the jewel in the crown of the metropolitan park on the southwestern borders of Jerusalem, was opened temporarily, for the interim days of Sukkot. Planners and developers of the Jerusalem Development Authority, the Jerusalem municipality and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority have stressed the importance of the surrounding terraced landscape and conservation of traditional agriculture, which “expresses the traditional cultural heritage of agriculture and settlement,” say the instructions for the park’s establishment plan.

Hundreds of visitors came on Tuesday and Wednesday to enjoy the site. But it was opened on condition that Palestinians, including the farmers responsible for the creation and conservation of the terraced landscape, were kept away from the park (Nir Hasson, Haaertz, October 15).

The story of Ein Hanya is about annexation, expulsion and sidelining Palestinians from their space under the cover of security. The spring is one of the most plentiful in the Jerusalem mountains and is part of an archaeological site with a long history. Until restoration work started a few years ago, it was a popular destination for Palestinians from the village of Al-Walaja, which sits above the spring, and nearby Beit Jala. Israelis and Palestinians have often enjoyed the site side by side. Shepherds would come to water their herds while on the slopes Palestinian farmers cultivated the terraces and olive groves.

The restoration was completed about two years ago, when the site was dedicated at a festive ceremony, in the presence of Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. However, later on the site was closed mainly due to a demand by the police to move the checkpoint beyond Ein Hanya to prevent Palestinians from coming to the spring. As the authorities became involved in a budgetary dispute over moving the checkpoint, the site was closed to the public and the ancient pools were emptied out. Meanwhile the security barrier in the West Bank was built in a manner that separates the spring from the village.

On Tuesday, after a brief campaign by Jews from Jerusalem and the settlements, the Jerusalem municipality and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority reopened the site, under heavy guard. A jeep was stationed on the road leading to the Palestinian communities, to prevent Palestinians from visiting the spring. A few days earlier, two Palestinian farmers were arrested for trying to access their land in the area. The authorities also uprooted 10 mature olive trees. Thus the site, which had been a focal point of life for the inhabitants living nearby, became a site for Israelis only.

Israel Nature and Parks Authority director Shaul Goldstein told Haaretz that he would be happy to see Palestinians continue to visit the site. Goldstein and other decision makers must take steps to permit this. Turning the spring from a place of meeting to a place of conflict will benefit neither side.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.