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Natural pool, Wadi Qana. Photo: B’Tselem, 27 March 2014
From the field

Wadi Qana – From Palestinian agricultural valley to settlements’ tourism park

Orange-picking at Wadi Qana. Photo: Iyad Mansur
Orange-picking at Wadi Qana. Photo: Iyad Mansur

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 use the land for farming and grazing. Over the course of many generations, and up to the 1990s, village families used to live in the wadi, relying on the springs for drinking water and for irrigating vegetable patches and citrus trees. To this day, residents of Deir Istiya and other neighboring villages go for a dip in the stream and relax on its banks.

Between 1978 and 1986, several settlements were established on the hills overlooking both banks of the wadi: Immanuel and Karnei Shomron to the north; Yaqir and Nofim to the south. Later, the settlement of Karnei Shomron expanded to several nearby hills as well. Between 1998 and 2000, the settlement outposts of Alonei Shilo, El Matan, and Yair Farm were established by these settlements. The settlements and outposts discharged their wastewater into the wadi, spoiling the springs and harming the farmers’ water sources.

Settlement of Karnei Shomron on slopes of Wadi Qana. Photo: Iyad Mansur
Settlement of Karnei Shomron on slopes of Wadi Qana. Photo: Iyad Mansur

In the 1990s, due to the pollution of their drinking water, the fifty Palestinian families who lived in the wadi at the time were obliged to leave it and move to Deir Istiya. The wadi’s springs were also harmed by water drillings undertaken by Israel since the 1970s. The drilling reduced the volume of water the springs discharged which, in turn, reduced the flow of the stream. The pollution and the reduced volume of water made it difficult to maintain irrigation-based farming in the area. Many of the farmers abandoned crops requiring irrigation and began planting trees in the wadi: mostly olive trees since these require very little irrigation, as well as a small number of deciduous fruit trees.

In 1983, the Nature Reserves and National Parks Unit of the Civil Administration established the Nahal Qana Reserve, declaring a nature reserve on an area of roughly 1,400 hectares along the valley floor of Wadi Qana and its surrounding slopes. Until a few years ago, the declaration of the Nahal Qana Reserve did not affect the Palestinian landowners, who continued to use the spring water, farm their land in the wadi, and use the area for leisure. Despite the declaration of the nature reserve, the settlements continued to release wastewater into the wadi until 2006, when the recognized settlements were connected to sewage infrastructures and the level of pollution was reduced. However, wastewater from the outposts of Alonei Shilo and El Matan is still being released directly into the reserve, while recurring blockages in the sewage system of the settlements of Nofim and Yaqir also result in occasional pollution of the stream’s water.

Wastewater from settlements flow through Wadi Qana . Photo: Bilal Mansur
Wastewater from settlements flow through Wadi Qana . Photo: Bilal Mansur

The planned course of the Separation Barrier in the area separates Wadi Qana from the landowners in Deir Istiya, leaving the wadi on the “Israeli” side of the barrier in an enclave of sorts. This situation is similar to that of numerous other enclaves created by the course of the barrier, which are the result of an attempt to link the settlements to Israeli territory and annex additional areas that will be off limits to Palestinians. As in the case of other planned enclaves that will extend deep into Palestinian territory, the Separation Barrier in Wadi Qana has yet to be constructed.

Plans to develop Wadi Qana as a tourism site

In 2006, the Kana Stream Restoration Authority was established with the goal of restoring the wadi and developing tourism in the area. The authority is made up of four member entities: the settlement of Karnei Shomron, Israel’s Ministry for Environmental Protection, Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), and the Civil Administration. Members of the settlement’s council told the media that one of the goals of the restoration plan was to boost Jewish presence in the area, in response to “Palestinian elements [who are] attempting to take control of the stream.”

Map of the area, with Wadi Qana marked in green

Also in 2006, Karnei Shomron Council began holding an annual spring walk. During the 2010 walk, Herzl Ben Ari, at the time head of Karnei Shomron Council, stated that the walk was “part of our overall plan to turn Kana Stream into the front yard of Karnei Shomron”. During these walks, the military does not allow Palestinians – including the landowners – to enter Wadi Qana.

In 2010, the Kana Stream Restoration Authority launched the Park Kana Project, which is being carried out in cooperation with other settlement councils in the area, representatives of the INPA and the Jewish National Fund, at an estimated cost of between eight and ten million shekels [approx. USD 2-2.5 million]. Over the past few years, implementation of the project has begun. The plan includes the establishment of scenic lookout points in the settlements above the wadi; the construction of a bicycle path running from the outpost of Alonei Shilo to the heart of the reserve – implemented in October 2013 with budgetary support from Israel’s Ministry of Tourism; the construction of a promenade that will encircle the area; as well as signs, information, and the construction of marked INPA paths.

Citrus orchard, Wadi Qana. Photo: Iyad Mansur
Citrus orchard, Wadi Qana. Photo: Iyad Mansur

The project was formulated into a master plan, and in November 2013 the Karnei Shomron Council submitted the Kana Stream Master Plan to the planning bureau of the Samaria Regional Council. The plan seeks to transform Wadi Qana into a tourist activity resource, yielding profits for the settlements in the area and attracting new residents. The plan includes the construction of roads connecting the settlements one to another and linking the settlements to the wadi; the construction of scenic routes, bicycle paths, and footpaths connecting the wadi to the settlements above; and the establishment of lookout points, car parks, and picnic sites in the area.

Forcing Palestinians out of Wadi Qana

Like other Palestinian villages, Deir Istiya is plagued by high rates of unemployment. Due to low wagesm even residents who are employed struggle to support their families. Most of the village’s land is situated in Area C, and Israel prevents use of the land for industrial or commercial purposes. Farmland in the area, including in Wadi Qana, constitutes one of the few sources of livelihood available to the residents.

The displacement of Palestinian farmers from Wadi Qana began with the pollution caused by wastewater from the settlements built above the stream. Since the restoration of the stream, displacement continues through the development of the area as an Israeli tourism site. Following this development, the INPA and the Civil Administration have begun imposing severe restrictions on Palestinian farming in the area, claiming that it damages nature in the reserve. In 2010, INPA inspectors raked and destroyed irrigation channels dug by the residents to divert water from the stream to their plots of land. Since 2011, the INPA has kept farmers from planting trees on their land in the wadi by confiscating saplings and uprooting trees. To date, around 1,000 trees have been uprooted and orders served for the uprooting of thousands more trees.

In 2012, a number of Palestinian landowners filed a petition with the High Court of Justice against the Civil Administration and the INPA who had issued orders for the uprooting of some 1,500 olive trees. The authorities claimed that the orders were issued against newly planted trees that form part of a “clear trend to farm natural areas” in the reserve, thereby damaging the natural flora, the topography, and the character of the habitat. After negotiations, the representatives of the petitioners and the state agreed that the parties would work together to mark the trees designated for uprooting. In May 2013, the Court granted this agreement the status of a court ruling. While reading their decision, the justices noted that the trees uprooted would have to have been planted during the two years prior to the issuing of the orders, i.e. after April 2010. Nevertheless, the landowners say that in the ensuing months, INPA inspectors also marked trees planted prior to this date.

Natural pool, Wadi Qana. Photo: Sharon Azran, B’Tselem, 27 March 2014
Natural pool, Wadi Qana. Photo: B’Tselem, 27 March 2014

Authorities ignore damage to the nature reserve caused by settlers

In contrast to the stringent enforcement measures imposed on Palestinian farmers, Israeli authorities turn a blind eye to illegal activities by settlers in the nature reserve, such as massive construction, building roads, and discharging wastewater into the wadi.

In its response to the High Court of Justice petition against the uprooting of trees, the INPA argued that it “looks into any damage within the area of the nature reserve, regardless of the identity of its perpetrator, and recommends the cessation of the [activity causing] damage and the terminating the phenomenon whenever it occurs.” In practice, however, the INPA ignores, or at the very least responds extremely slowly, regarding the following offenses:

  • Approximately 100 homes in the settlements of Yaqir, Nofim, and Karnei Shomron were constructed within the area of the reserve. In 2014, master plans were submitted which provided for the expansion of the settlement of Yakir and the retroactive approval of the outpost of El Matan. These plans include rezoning as residential areas currently defined as a nature reserve.

  • The access road to the outpost of Alonei Shilo was built within the area of the nature reserve. In August 2014, a new road was constructed in the reserve, running from Alonei Shilo to Immanuel. The roadwork was undertaken without a permit and caused damage to the reserve. Work was halted following complaints from Palestinian residents of the neighboring villages. Over six month later, the INPA is still investigating.

  • As noted, wastewater from the settlements above Wadi Qana was released into the stream for about 20 years without hindrance. Even now, the stream continues to be polluted by wastewater from the outposts and when the sewage system serving the settlements malfunctions.

Olive grove, Wadi Qana. Photo: Iyad Mansur
Olive grove, Wadi Qana. Photo: Iyad Mansur

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 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 displacement of the Palestinian farmers from their land in Wadi Qana violates their right to property and to a livelihood. They are being forced out on the pretext of safeguarding local nature, yet no one keeps the settlements from grossly trampling this very same nature. The plans to transform the wadi into a park studded with scenic routes, footpaths, and visitors expose the true purpose underpinning the actions of the INPA and the Civil Administration: strengthening Israeli control of the wadi and appropriating it for the settlements.