The wind was bitingly cold as we stepped out of the van into the Beit Natufa valley. We sat on large white rocks overlooking the lush green valley, hoping to absorb whatever heat the sun would grant us whenever it poked its face from behind large puffy clouds.
Our guest speaker approached. He pulled up in a small car, blasting what I can only guess was Israeli pop music. With youthful grey eyes and and ageless smile, he introduced himself.
"I am Haim, I am an Israeli Jew and Hussein is one of my closest friends." (Hussein is our professor)"He is like a son to me, I swear, I almost adopted him. I even had a hand in introducing him to his wife."
The conflict in the Beit Natufa Valley has its roots in an asymmetrical infrastructure and conflict of economics. The land is privately owned by traditional Arab farmers, called "Falachin". The Beit Natufa Valley floods every four years during the winter, and as a result the spring and summer months prove difficult to plant and harvest due to oversaturated soil.
While the farmers of the Beit Natufa valley are traditional farmers, and have been there for many generations, they are suffering financially. Due to an asymetrical government subsidy program, they are unable to produce as much crops as the israeli farms, which have regulated access to water and are not hindered by the flooding.
There is a proposal for a pipeline that would drain the valley, bringing the water into two reservoirs where it is purified and is then transported into the Israeli cities and settlements. Although this water is originally from Palestinian land, none of the water is returned to Palestinian farmers, nor would they be compensated for this water. Despite lack of a permit, construction of this pipeline was started by the ministry of agriculture, but plans were interrupted by the ministry of environment who protested the destruction of the landscape.
In theory this plan would benefit the Palestinian farmers, as it allows them more growing time. But it comes at a high cost. These farmers would have to give up 10% of their land, which would reduce their income to such an extent that many farmers may elect to sell their land for economic purposes. Furthermore, once they sell their land to larger israeli corporations, the corporate farms will begin to monocrop, thus destroying the native plants of the region. All these sacrifices would be for only two extra months of growing season, every couple of years.
The valley itself has environmental, cultural and religious significance. The plants in the region are native to the area, and are immune to many pests, which could be valuable for heirloom farming. Furthermore, the Falachin are native to the area and are a part of Arab-Israeli culture. To encourage their removal due to lack of economic stability would prove detrimental to the historic culture of the region. Finally, it is said that Jesus would cross the Beit Natufa valley in order to visit Mary Magdalen. Haim, working with the ministry of environment, has proposed that they preserve the land and promote it as an eco-tourist, anthropological and religious-tourist destination. Though their plan has not yet been approved, Haim is confident that the profits from increased tourism to the area would motivate the farmers to remain in the valley.
(Will be posting pictures ASAP. Internet is not cooperating tonight)