Unnatural Reserve

Among the many settler outposts that have cropped up in the past few years in Judea and Samaria, there is one that is exceptional, because it is located in the Nahal Porat nature reserve, west of Jericho.

Among the many settler outposts that have cropped up in the past few years in Judea and Samaria, there is one that is exceptional, because it is located in the Nahal Porat nature reserve, west of Jericho. This outpost symbolizes the bankruptcy of the law enforcement system in Israel, because the woman living there as an illegal trespasser was appointed by the state as the official responsible for looking after the area.

The old house in the reserve that Yael Yisrael moved into six years ago is not officially designated an outpost. However, it became one after Yisrael, the daughter of MK Uri Ariel (National Union), entered it as a protest against the murder of two Israelis in Wadi Kelt by Palestinians in 1997.

She refused to leave the site. Then the Nature and Parks Authority decided that, since she was already there, she might as well be appointed inspector of the nature reserve. So a new principle was born: If you can't beat them, let them join you. Yisrael now lives in the reserve with her husband and young daughter and is an inspector. As part of her duties, she decides where hikers can go and what they are not allowed to do in the reserve, and also when they have to leave, so as not to disturb the natural tranquillity.

In every desert reserve (such as Nahal Arugot or Nahal David in the Judean Desert), the site must be evacuated in the afternoon, by order of the Nature and Parks Authority, so the wild animals can drink peacefully from the few springs in these regions. In Ein Porat, though, a human presence exists 24 hours a day. The Yisrael family house is surrounded by various security means, and, just to be on the safe side, a platoon of soldiers is stationed there to guard the reserve.

Outraged by this scandalous state of affairs, scientists who deal with nature conservation and hikers who come regularly to the reserve sent complaints a few months ago to the environment minister and the director-general of the Nature and Parks Authority, Eli Amitai. They became even more incensed following the publication of newspaper articles in which parks authority inspectors described Yisrael sympathetically and called her "the new Manya Shochat" - the founder, in 1907, of the first agricultural Jewish workers' collective in Palestine.

To Amitai's credit, he decided that Yael Yisrael must vacate the house in the reserve and he continues to hold this view, though he has not succeeded in getting it implemented. In fact, the way in which Amitai asked for the house to be vacated and the general handling of this affair by the various bodies involved only emphasizes the wretched state of the law enforcement system. Even though Amitai maintained that Yisrael was in complete violation of the law, he did not even give consideration to her employment by the Nature and Parks Authority, which he heads, and then stated righteously that she had received authorization to be there from his predecessors in office. What concerned Amitai, and this is justifiable in itself, was the inspector's security. Yisrael, for her part, pointed out that she is now protected by soldiers and, therefore, her security is taken care of. She declined to answer questions from Haaretz about her presence in the nature reserve.

According to the Nature and Parks Authority, responsibility for removing Yisrael rests with the army and the Civil Administration. In the meantime, none of these bodies has taken any action to evacuate the Yisrael family.

The continued residence of Yael Yisrael and her family in the nature reserve will be welcomed by many hikers and trespassers who have already taken up residence in a number of reserves and national parks. This is the precedent that will make it possible for them to celebrate at the expense of nature. Hikers, who have recently encountered a strict enforcement policy by inspectors in cases of unauthorized presence in a reserve or deviation from trails designated for hiking, have the right to demand that they be treated no differently from the settlers in the Nahal Porat reserve. After all, even if Yael Yisrael is an inspector, the members of her family, who stay overnight, are not, nor are the guests who visit her at various times.

The trespassers can suggest a quick and effective solution to the Nature and Parks Authority: that they, too, be made inspectors. They, too, are permanently in the reserves and they can maintain close surveillance of everyone who breaks the laws of nature conservation.