Deir Qal’a and Deir Balut

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Nurit and Irit (Photography and reporting), guest photographer, Mustafa(driver), translation: Danah Ezekiel

Crusader fortresses that included agricultural farms, churches and palaces left behind impressive ancient sites. The remains of two of them (Deir Qal’a and Deir Mir) are in the agricultural lands of the family of A. from Deir Balut, who grew the olive trees around and between the ancient remains. The British mapped the archeological sites in the West Bank and thus made it easier for the Israeli occupation to organize so that these would be included in Area C and would close settlements on them - so that they would be used for their well-being and as a future source of income from tourism. Access to Deir Qal’a today is through the settlement of Peduel, so the Palestinian landowner cannot reach his land by car.

A., the 78-year-old landowner has given up.  For two years now he has not been able to harvest the 216 olive trees he has in Deir Qal’a and makes do with the lands he still owns, in Deir Mir on the opposite mountain.

We visited the site and conversed with the Nature Reserve Authority employees there, it became clear to us that they intend to uproot the olive trees that "create havoc" at the archaeological site. And more:  an impressive mosaic floor has been removed from the site and transferred to the Good Samaritan site. This is an action prohibited by law that requires, among other things, the consent of the land owner. And that, of course, was not done.

The family of A.  was blessed with many lands which they lost piece by piece and became impoverished. In addition to Deir Qal’a, during the construction of the settlement there - reaching right up to the family's house, its lands were again reduced. For his livelihood, the family member works in a hotel in Tel Aviv. And there, under slave conditions, he was required to work seven days a week. We connected him to Hana Zohar, hoping that "Kav LaOved" would be able to intervene and help him reach a more humane employment agreement.

The nature reserves’ laws include severe restrictions which go against the existence of the Palestinian agricultural tradition that has been preserved and supported the Palestinians for hundreds of years. Gradually the lands are transformed from agricultural to "nature". In large parts of the upper Nahal Shilo reserve, not all the prohibitions are enforced yet (on planting a tree to replace the diseased or dead one and repairing terraces with agricultural tools), as we learned at the time when we met farmers from Deir Hasana whose land is in the more eastern part of the reserve. The Occupation has a long breath. The condition of A. from Deir Balut is more similar to the situation of the farmers of the Wadi Kana River Reserve whom we met and heard on the tour there.