Amid the sprawling olive groves that surround Ein Al Ariq – or Ein Hag’vura –
outside of Nablus, Jamal Daraghmeh recalled the days of the 1970s, when he and
fellow community members used to come to the basin to collect water for their
village drinking needs and livestock.
“We [now] have access only after
coordination for the olive harvest, once a year,” Daraghmeh, mayor of the nearby
village al Luban al Sharqiya, told reporters during a United Nations field tour
of the area last week. Information from the tour was embargoed until
Daraghmeh, who claimed that his family actually owned the land
around the spring, which was renovated into a bathing pool by the nearby Eli
settlement, told reporters on Tuesday that he could no longer enter the area
without a prearranged security detail.
His narrative was interrupted by
Amiad Cohen, head of security for the Eli settlement, who arrived at the spring
after he spotted the group of journalist and UN officials.
“Here no one
tells you not to come – come!” Cohen said. “No one stops you,” he
The visit to Ein Hag’vura was part of a media field tour of
several area springs that followed a press briefing in Jerusalem about the
release of a new UN report called “How Dispossession Happens: The humanitarian
impact of the takeover of Palestinian water springs by Israeli
The report, assembled by the United Nations Office for the
Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), was officially released to the
public on Monday.
It details how in the past decade settlers have
renovated and developed West Bank springs located for the most part on private
Palestinian land in Area C.
“In the West Bank water is a scarce
resource,” said Ramesh Rajasingham, head of the OCHA, during the press
Due to the Israeli settler “takeover” of so many Area C
springs, Palestinian farmers are not able to cultivate their crops any longer,
according to Rajasingham.
The IDF, however, rejected the report as
“distorted, biased and full of inaccuracies.”
According to the spokesman
for the IDF Coordinator of Government Activities in the territories, work to
enhance and improve West Bank sites, including natural springs, requires a
permit. The Civil Administration, he said, recently acted against illegal
construction of the natural spring at El Kabira, next to Eilon Moreh, and
started a judicial procedure against illegal construction of the spring at Ein
Elmah’na, next to the Har Bracha settlement.
“There is nothing preventing
the Palestinians from accessing the natural springs,” he said. “Everyone
has the right to access the local natural springs in the public spaces. In case
there is a complaint that any party is preventing, threatening or interfering
with access to such sites, it must be reported to the nearest police
COGAT, which received the report only on Thursday, did not
provide information on how many of the natural springs had permits.
Civil Administration official told The Jerusalem Post
, “We are sorry that the UN
wrote such a report without first coming and talking to us.”
briefing with reporters on Tuesday, Rajasingham of OCHA said the settler
takeover of natural springs was just one example of the human vulnerability that
results from the occupation. UN researchers have set out to analyze the
situation on the ground, he explained.
“It’s a kind of microcosm that
highlights some of the settlement activity in general,” agreed Yehezkel Lein,
head of the research and analyst unit at OCHA.
After this winter’s
extensive rains, there is much-needed water flowing generously through the West
Bank springs. However, the Palestinians have very limited access to this
resource, according to Lein.
In addition to the Ein Hag’vura example,
another spring is Ein Al Dhara – now Mayan Ateret – where settlers have
developed springs that were Palestinian-owned into tourist attractions for
Israelis, he explained. OCHA representatives showed journalists a video during
the briefing, in which Rabbi Oren Attiya of a nearby settlement praised the work
of his community at Mayan Ateret, which he said transformed the area from a
muddy hole into a relaxing place to visit.
In the report, the OCHA
researchers identified 56 springs in the vicinity of Israeli settlements,
predominantly in Area C (93 percent), of which 30 had been completely “taken
over” by settlers – giving Palestinians limited or no access at all to these
springs, according to Lein.
The researchers considered the remaining 26
to be “at risk” for similar takeover, and of the total 56 springs documented,
84% were located on private Palestinian land, he said.
More than half of
these springs are located within the Ramallah governate, while another two
clusters are in the Gush Etzion-Bethlehem area and southeast of Nablus,
respectively. The “methods for takeover,” according to the report, for 22 out of
the 30 springs have involved intimidation, threats and violence, with a
significant role being played by the security coordinators in the
settlements. Meanwhile, four of the springs ended up isolated by security
barriers inside closed military zones, and another four were isolated by
The OCHA team deemed the other 26 springs “at risk” due
to the fact that groups of settlers regularly visit them with tour groups and
students from Israel proper, and only allow for limited Palestinian
Settlers are in the process of developing at least 40 of the springs
into tourist sites, with pool renovations, picnic tables, benches, shading
structures, new roads and occasional parking lots, as well as signs that contain
Hebrew but no Arabic, according to Lein.
“This gives a kind of symbolic
meaning to the appropriation,” he said.
The so-called takeover of springs
is “contributing to the entrenchment of the settlement enterprise” in a number
of ways, according to Yehezkel. By developing the springs, the
settlements generate employment opportunities and revenue for themselves, secure
control of disputed space and help “normalize” settlements in the eyes of
perhaps formerly skeptical Israelis, he explained.
Serious efforts on the
part of various right-wing non-governmental organizations have brought hordes of
high school students from within Israel proper to visit historical places in the
West Bank, like Shilo and Hebron, in the same manner as they are coming to the
springs – “taking them as a captive audience and bringing them as classes to the
West Bank,” according to human rights consultant and anti-settlement activist
“Traditionally, settlements were seen as kind of
ideologically contentious, something that has to do with politics,” he said.
“Now this is a way of advertising settlements as a kind of ‘fun’ thing,
somewhere you go to have a fun time and not have to think about
David Ha’ivri, who heads the Shomron Liaison Office and is a
spokesman for the Samaria Regional Council, said he was startled to hear that
the UN had compiled a report on natural springs.
It showed, he said, the
extreme lengths the UN would go to “manipulate” the facts on the
“In many locations in Judea and Samaria, young people who hike
around the communities have found springs and developed them into recreation
areas,” he said. They dug out pools and developed the areas into small parks
with picnic benches that are open to the public. It is mostly local young people
who use the springs, he added.
Ha’ivri noted that spring water flowed
naturally in and out of the small pools that had been created, and could still
be used by Palestinians for agricultural purposes.
During the field tour
that began at Ein Tut, near the Beit El settlement, Etkes pointed out new roads
and a parking lot that settlers had built at the spring, adding that “you will
never find a sign in Arabic simply because Arabs are not
Residents of adjacent Arab villages were accustomed to using
the spring in the past as a water hole for their animals, as well as for
domestic use, but “nowadays they are afraid,” according to Ayman W. Sheikh
Ibrahim, humanitarian affairs associate at OCHA’s Central Field Coordination
Unit for Jerusalem, Ramallah and the Jordan Valley.
Without easy access
to their springs, many Palestinian farmers must now solely rely on rainfall and
expensive water from tankers in order to irrigate their crops, Lein explained
during the press briefing. They often feel too intimidated by the presence of
armed settlers to even approach the spring waters, he said.
All of the
spring activity occurs with the “acquiescence and sometimes active support of
the Israeli authorities,” even though building on and developing these lands is
technically illegal, according to Lein. At Ein Hag’vura, for example, Etkes
pointed out that the emblem of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority was etched
into the Hebrew-only welcoming sign.
“Our recommendations in this regard
are quite straightforward,” Lein said. “First, it is to stop settlement
expansion, to restore Palestinian access to springs taken over, to conduct
effective investigations into trespass attacks and physical assault and,
finally, to prevent the ongoing phenomenon of settler tours in springs located
on private Palestinian property.”
On the ground at Ein Hag’vura, however,
the situation was not quite as straightforward.
After Daraghmeh argued
that he owned the land and should be able to go there freely, Cohen acknowledged
that “this is private Palestinian land in Israel,” but that according to the law
anyone could visit private agricultural land. Offering Daraghmeh his personal
cell phone for protection should he encounter any problems in the future, Cohen
meanwhile blamed the army for troubles that had occurred there.
developing because the Jews love the Land of Israel,” Cohen said. “We come in
peace and want to be good neighbors.”