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A quest to recreate Davidic Jerusalem carves a valley of shadow Palestinians

16 26 23

One of Jerusalem’s newest attractions is an educational farm where visitors can learn about traditional agriculture. Guests to the site, on land controlled by the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), can walk amid the farm’s newly built terraces nestled into the Hinnom Valley, checking out models of early irrigation systems, a winepress, and a stone mechanism used for squeezing oil out of olives.

Many of the olive groves, however, that dapple the valley just south of Mount Zion and the Old City are not part of the fenced-off farm. Rather, they are cultivated by Palestinian families from the adjacent neighborhoods of Abu Tor and Silwan. Critics say the landscape the families have been tending for generations is being replaced by a right-wing Jewish version of the very agricultural traditions they practice.

“The infuriating thing about what’s happening in the Hinnom Valley is that in the name of development that masquerades as an ancient agricultural landscape, they are displacing the traditional Palestinian agriculture that has preserved the historic character of the place,” said Uri Ehrlich, spokesperson for the left-wing Emek Shaveh organization, which campaigns against the politicization of ancient sites.

The farm was opened in August by the INPA, together with the Ir David (City of David) Foundation, a right-wing organization — called Elad in Hebrew — accused of attempting to “Judaize” the ultra-sensitive Holy Basin outside the Old City.

The nonprofit operates the City of David archaeological site and other state properties with an overt Jewish nationalist bent, and settles Jewish families in the adjacent Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan.

At a recent festival at the farm to celebrate its opening, guides held workshops on ancient crafts like perfume-making, stone-carving, and weaving, amid a surfeit of biblical allusions. Barefoot children stomped on grapes, and others took photos in faux biblical garb. Security guards stood sentinel.

Down in the valley, much of which is part of the Jerusalem Walls National Park, INPA workers and some who identified themselves as belonging to the Ir David Foundation were laying paths, building low walls to support new terrace agriculture, and planting trees with drip irrigation systems.

The Palestinian homes on either side of the valley were just another part of the surrounding scenery.

In 1974, Israel declared the area around the walls of the Old City a national park. The demarcation included the Hinnom Valley, also sometimes called the Ben Hinnom Valley, which had been under partial Jordanian control until 1967. The area, credited with inspiring some Christian conceptions of Hell, is known to Christians as “Gehenna,” a place of burning, and in the Jewish Bible, it is identified as a place of cultic child sacrifice by fire.

The national park status did not change the original ownership of the land, but imposed various restrictions on it where building is concerned. The INPA says that it may carry out development-related work anywhere in the Hinnom Valley in order to preserve the area ​​and make it accessible to visitors.

A 2009 report on the park prepared for the INPA described the Hinnom Valley as “an area without any traditional ownership, presenting an attraction for hazards.”

The INPA still sees the land in the same way. “Unfortunately, many areas in the east of the city, such as the Hinnom Valley area, have become waste sites that have suffered from arson every summer, to this day,” it said in a statement to The Times of Israel recently. “The INPA sees it as a duty to rehabilitate damaged areas and develop them for the benefit of visitors and the residents of the area.”

But Palestinians say the hillsides below the Old City and Abu Tor are not untamed or unclaimed.

“We are the landowners and we clean up this land and pick the olives that are here every year,” said Ahmed Somrin, whose family owns property in Abu Tor and Silwan.

Somrin claims that tracts of land on both sides of the road running through the glen down to where it meets Silwan and the Kidron Valley have been farmed by his family going back generations. But now one of the plots on a slope below Abu Tor has been subject to a so-called landscaping order.

As the INPA itself acknowledges, it must obtain........

© The Times of Israel

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