We met Muhammad Abu Hisam, the head of the village of Atara, near Bir Zeit, and Naji from Nabi Salah, in the spacious garden of the Sheikh al-Qatrawani maqam. It’s open daily for children and families, and in the evening also for youths. Abu Hisam told us two weddings had been held there. He was very proud of the well-cared-for garden and the location of the village, 900 meters above sea level. Snow falls every winter.
The garden is situated on the slope near the only entrance to the village, on a road branching from Highway 446. The checkpoint closes often, very arbitrarily. The soccer team on its way to a game in Ramallah was held up for six hours. The village has about 3500 residents, and a similar number have left since 1967, most to the Gulf. Of the village’s 10,160 dunums, 160 were stolen for the establishment of the Ateret settlement in 1981. Since the first intifada in 1987 access to their agricultural land has been hindered by both fencing and by the Ateret settlers. The settlement was erected on lands from three villages: Ajul, Umm Safa and Atara.
We suggested we might help with the olive harvest and learn more about obstacles to the harvest and regarding access to their lands. They were very open and encouraging.
Income from agriculture has declined both because of the aforementioned reasons and because of the growing number of wild boars. The village gets water from the Palestinian Authority, while Nabi Salah gets theirs from Mekorot. They had an interesting discussion about which was preferable. In the past, their modest standard of living allowed them to make do with springs and cisterns.
Atara’s Ein Jahir spring has been stolen and turned into a tourist site belonging to Ateret, called “Ateret Spring.” It’s located on the slope of the hill where Atara is situated, not in the settlement.
The sign on Highway 446, on the way to the spring, not only fails to indicated the historic name of the spring but is written only in Hebrew and English, with the logo of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. The highway is public space and excluding the Arabic language and implicitly the Palestinians from the sign, as on all highway signage in the West Bank, is offensive.
This area, between the new town of Ru’abi, Atara, Ajul and the Ateret settlement is an agricultural area with great tourist potential. It includes the spring, two archaeological sites (referred to at the settlement’s site), the Umm Safa Nature Preserve and the garden of the Sheikh al-Qatwarani maqam. It’s now a tourist area where the Palestinians retain only the maqam’s garden. A little finger of the hand which belongs to the settlers. The proximity to Bir Zeit and to Rua’bi gives me hope that there will be a protest and struggle against the expropriation.
From a geographical perspective, the situation of the village of Umm Safa is very troubling. It is pinched between Ateret and Halamish, which are only five kilometers apart. That space includes also the Umm Safa Forest (named after the village?). It should be noted that the Halamish settlement wanted to be called “Neve Tzuf,” and insists on using that name today, and Ateret was to have been called “Neve Tzuf B’.” Between them, on the other side of the road, is an orthodox pre-army preparatory school.