Update: The Settlers' walk was postponed due to rain
Shepherds’ home, Wadi Qana. Homes of Yakir settlement seen in background. Photo: Jamil Dweikat
Today, 23 April, the annual settlers’ walk will be held in Wadi Qana. During the walk, established 2006, the military prohibits Palestinian farmers, owners of wadi land, and the Palestinian general public from entering the wadi. The event symbolizes the systematic displacement of the farmers of Wadi Qana from their land and the seizure of the area by the settlers, with the assistance of the Nature and Parks Authority and the Civil Administration.
Wadi Qana is one of the tributaries of the Yarkon River. The central section of the wadi, to the east of Qalqiliyah, is in Area C and includes several springs. The land in the wadi in this area is owned by Palestinians, mainly by residents of the nearby village of Deir Istiya who have used the land for farming and grazing for many generations. Since the 1970s, a string of settlements and outposts have been built around the wadi, and in 1983 the Civil Administration declared the area a nature reserve. Wastewater discharged into the wadi from the settlements along with water drillings undertaken by Israel led to the dwindling and pollution of the water sources in the stream. Palestinian families who lived and worked the land in the wadi were obliged to leave their homes in the 1990s, and the Palestinian farmers had no choice but to abandon irrigated crops and plant olive trees instead, since these require very little irrigation.
Map of the Area with Wadi Qana marked in green
In 2006, most of the settlements in the area were hooked up to the sewage system and the Qana stream began to recover. That same year, the settlements, in cooperation with Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA) and Israel’s Ministry of Tourism, began to develop the area as a tourist site for the local Jewish residents. Since that time, the Civil Administration and the INPA have been forcing out the wadi’s landowners, citing safeguarding nature as a pretext. At the same time, they have been assisting the settlers in developing the area as an Israeli tourist site. To this end, the authorities have imposed restrictions on Palestinian farming in the wadi, uprooted trees and destroyed irrigation channels, all the while investing in the development of Israeli tourism. The latest orders for the uprooting of Palestinian crops in Wadi Qana were issued on 15 March 2015, ordering the uprooting of hundreds of olive trees in three plots owned by farmers from Deir Istiya. Since 2011, the INPA and the Civil Administration have issued uprooting orders for thousands of trees in Wadi Qana owned by Palestinian farmers – some in areas previously used for irrigated crops – and have actually uprooted about 1,000 trees.
The natural environment of Wadi Qana is indeed unique and impressive and is worthy of protection. However, traditional Palestinian agriculture in the area forms an integral part of this nature. The conduct of the Israeli authorities – reducing the volume of water in the stream by water drilling in the area; enabling pollution of the stream with wastewater from the settlements – forced Palestinian farmers to alter their agricultural use of the wadi from irrigated crops and switch primarily to olive trees. A genuine effort to restore the wadi must include restoration of the stream’s flow and the cessation of any release of wastewater, enabling the farmers to revert to their former practice of making a living off irrigated crops in the wadi.
Even if it is right to declare a nature reserve in the area, such a reserve must first and foremost serve the Palestinian public to whom it belongs. In practice, however, the declaration of a nature reserve in Wadi Qana, as elsewhere in Area C, is mainly intended to exclude Palestinians from their land. Hundreds of thousands of hectares of Area C land – 14% of Area C – have been declared nature reserves or national parks. In all these areas, Israeli authorities keep Palestinians from building and developing and restrict their use of the land, just as they do elsewhere by declaring firing zones and state land.
The Israeli authorities must lift the restrictions on farming in Wadi Qana, completely halt the discharge of wastewater into the stream, and rescind the development plans, which seek to intensify the Israeli presence in the wadi while displacing the Palestinian landowners and the Palestinian public.