Since coming to Palestine, I have visited many beautiful villages, groves and valleys (wadi). But I have had the fortune of being able to return numerous times to Wadi Qana, a valley so integral to the village of Deir Istya, that when you speak to people from there, they tell you, “it’s a part of my body.”
When spring breaks, villagers pile their barbecue equipment, food and arghilas (water pipeps), on top of everyone they can fit into one car and drive the few kilometers to spend Fridays in the valley. There is a small reservoir and stream, where men and women can wash their hands and the little ones can keep cool. The valley is full of citrus trees of all kinds, and during the winter the oranges are so abundant that the laden trees keep the ground and themselves full at the same time.
Each time I visit the valley, I meet Abu Nafez. He is a short and sturdy man, who can always be found among his citrus grove. He has tended to these trees for most of his life. He has five sons, all of whom selected a different political party in which to become active. Abu Nafez has no political affiliation. Over the years, he has witnessed the seven settlements that tower above Wadi Qana expand and the various tactics of destruction employed by the settlers and Israeli army against his land.
Five years ago, Abu Nafez discovered that the settlements Revava and Immanuel had started depositing their raw sewage into the valley, contaminating the once drinkable reservoir and threatening the crops.
Abu Nafez has had his trees cut, burned and vandalized by the nearby settlers as well.
“They are looking for any excuse to take this valley from us”
All of this damage and destruction has taken place amidst the Civil Administration classifying Wadi Qana as a “natural reserve”. Under this most unwelcome gesture of paternalism, now the Civil Administration — the name Israel gives its occupation — has ordered the uprooting of 1700 trees in the valley in the name of “natural balance”.
“They have no right to tell us how to take care of this land,” says Abed Settar, a political leader in the Salfit region, where Wadi Qana is positioned.
Settar came to valley for the Friday demonstration, a new weekly event, to protest against the army’s decision and protect the valley. Around 30 men came to the demonstration, where an imam led the Friday prayer. Villagers want to popularize the Friday demonstrations but are concerned that if any violence breaks out, the Israeli army will put a gate at the entrance of the valley and throw away the key.
“They are looking for any excuse to take this valley from us,” one villager warns.
Wadi Qana is exceptional. On Fridays, the neighboring settlers often armed with rifles or guarded by plainclothes security men, also come to enjoy the idyllic landscape. Palestinians share the space with these families, pretending to ignore their incommodious presence.
The Salfit area is one of the most densely settler-populated areas in the West Bank. Here, the settler population equals that of the Palestinian and Israel just approved the addition of 2100 housing units to the settlement stronghold of the area, Ariel.
This Friday, I finally met Abu Nafez’ son. Nafez was the mayor of Deir Istya until 2005, and villagers remember him with fondness and respect. While not noticeable at first, he lost his right eye during the second intifada when a settler threw a stone at him.
When I sat next to him, he greeted me with a joyful smile. He spoke ardently about his attachment to the land and its importance to his village.
But as we continued speaking, Nafez became more solemn.
Born in the valley
He, like hundreds of others, was born in the valley and used to live there until the Israeli army forced them to leave in 1986. He remembers walking the five kilometers to Deir Istya everyday for school. He also remembers being a child and swimming in the reservoir that is now too shallow and filthy.
Nafez then spoke of his time as mayor and the second intifada. He slowed his speech as he recalled the past, his left eye filling with tears as he remembered.
“I know what occupation means. I know it very well. It’s a horrible thing, it’s an unnatural thing.”
Nafez looks into the future as he does to the past, with grief and fear. He has seen Palestine get consumed by Zionism, and now this beloved land, his beloved home, is teetering on the same fate.
Nafez has travelled to many countries and studied in Istanbul for several years.
“But this area is a part of my character, part of my soul.”