I run to the fields, walk amid mountains and breathe in the smell of leaves to escape the chaos, pollution and claustrophobia of Ramallah.
The lack of open space and adequate urban parks in the city leaves me constantly hungry for green fields and crisp, fresh air. Green makes me happy, as it does many people.
Nothing else alleviates the deep sadness that overcomes me with the awareness that we live in a large caged urban space, controlled on the outside by a ruthless occupier, and run on the inside by self interest and greed.
My planning and architectural senses are constantly agitated by the lack of zoning laws, the absence of mindful designs and the complete disregard for the landscape. As one hideous commercial building after another goes up, I yearn for a place that is in harmony with the land.
Ein Fawar, a nature reserve in Wadi Qilt, between Ramallah and Jericho, which is controlled by Israel. (Photo: Dana Erekat)
I embarked on a quest to discover new areas of nature every weekend to rejuvenate my senses and breathe, even if momentarily.
Yet, while I found pristine landscapes within the West Bank in areas not far from Ramallah, it soon became clear to me that these green spaces, water springs and parks have been grabbed and are controlled by Israel in the name of “nature preservation.”
Water springs are linked to illegal Israeli settlements, parks are erected on stolen old Palestinian villages, and hiking trails are used to link Israeli settlement blocs.
At the same time, smaller nature reserves under the Palestinian Authority, such as the areas around Ein Qinia, are continuously disturbed by private developers who have the means to buy zoning changes.
Builders use beautiful untouched land as dumping sites for their construction waste and metal scraps.
The Palestinian Authority stands idle, with no enforced accountability measures in place. A couple of signs here and there warn against dumping waste, but no penalties are ever levied. Ironically, the signs themselves are surrounded with the concrete and rubble waste they forbid.
Hiking trail linking Ein Fawwar with Ein Farra, controlled by Israel. Photo by Dana Erekat.
I found myself caught between Israel’s political grabbing of our land and the Palestinian Authority’s disregard for its protection. While resisting the Israeli theft of the land is an ongoing and difficult process, accountability measures by the Palestinian Authority would help protect what is left.
Palestinian architects and planners also have the social responsibility to expose and fight the destruction of the landscape. As a Palestinian architect and planner, and as a nature lover, I decided to take matters into my own hands and “instagrab the landscape,” hoping to shed some light on the matter.
A water spring hidden behind trees near the Israeli settlement of Psagot. Photo by Dana Erekat.
Trees along an Area C road in the West Bank leading to the Palestinian village of Burham. The road is controlled by Israel since it is near an Israeli settlement. Photo by Dana Erekat.
The valley linking Al-Tireh with Ein Qiniya, which is under the jurisdiction of the Ramallah Municipality (PA,) has become a dumping site. Photo by Dana Erekat.
A sign warns that the punishment for dumping waste in this area under PA control is 1000 JD, plus the mandatory removal of ten loads of waste. Photo by Dana Erekat.
The first house to be constructed in what is supposed to be a nature reserve area under PA control. Al-Tireh. Photo by Dana Erekat.
Ein Fawwar water stream, controlled by Israel. (Photo: Dana Erekat)
A water spring linked to Ateret, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. (Photo: Dana Erekat)
Shaqa’iq Alnu’man flowers at Ateret settlement water spring. (Photo: Dana Erekat)
Al-Makhrour in Beit Jala, part of the Abraham Path hiking trail, which is at risk of confiscation for exclusive use by settlers as a link between the Israeli settlement blocs in the area. (Photo: Dana Erekat)
Ein Fawwar nature reserve entry booth with an Israeli flag. This is in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel has retained control of all land-related matters, including land allocation, planning and construction, and infrastructure. (Photo: Dana Erekat)
This article was first published in Jadaliyya.
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