Petition to the High Court to stop illegal activity at the ancient site the Biyar Aqueduct and return the property to its owners
July 12, 2016
Residents of the al-Khader village, along with the organizations Emek Shaveh and Yesh Din, petitioned the High Court yesterday (July 11) demanding a court order to stop the conduct at the aqueduct over which Gush Etzion regional council has taken control. “This is a touristic settlement and appropriation of the past as a means of justifying their right to the land.”
History and significance of the site
The historical site of the Biyar Aqueduct is part of the lower aqueduct conveying mountain and spring water from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, and was in use until the British Mandate. The Biyar Aqueduct begins at Ein Bir and is three kilometers long; The Biyar Aqueduct is a quarried, underground tunnel lined with shafts. The aqueduct conveys water to Solomon’s Pools and from there, branches out into upper and lower aqueducts leading to Jerusalem. It is not possible to walk along the aqueduct, although the spring and an underground portion 100 meters long were made accessible by the Gush Etzion City Council to walk along during the spring and fall seasons. Although the period in which the tunnel was quarried has not been confirmed, it is presented to the public as an Ancient Roman aqueduct, also known as the Second Temple Period, that conveyed water to Jerusalem and to the temple, and is thereby used to emphasize the entire surrounding area as the “life source” of Jerusalem in its glory days as a Jewish city.
In the year 2000, a resident of the Palestinian village al-Khader noticed that various parties, supposedly on behalf of the Efrat City Council, were entering their lands, uprooting trees and destroying terraces and stone walls in the plot. He filed a complaint on the matter to the civil administration. A short time later, the Gush Etzion Development Company turned to the petitioner to sign a contract for the purpose of arranging for tourist activity on the site and permitting tourist access to his plot. The problem is that the site was never allocated to the Gush Etzion Development Company.
Furthermore, the petitioners turned to the West Bank Civil Administration and to the Staff Officer for Archaeology in the Civil Administration, complaining about the historical site having been turned into a tourist attraction by developers who lack the authority to do so. After receiving no response to the petition, the landowners and head of the village council petitioned the High Court.
As written in the petition, “The Biyar Aqueduct is one example of a tourist settlement that has produced a tourist site based on ancient ruins and is being marketed as an Israeli heritage site. In this way, groups with national-political motives, for example respondent no. 3 (Gush Etzion regional council) and responsible parties on its behalf appropriate the antiquities and create an Israeli presence at a site indisputably located on Palestinian-owned land.”
It was further written that “In fact, the activities of respondents 3-6 (Gush Etzion Regional Council, Gush Etzion Development Company Ltd., Efrat Local Council, Gush Etzion Field School) involve control, assimilation and annexation of the site, while excluding its Palestinian residents from the place. The site is presented in the context of conveying water to the Temple for worship and its importance with regard to Jerusalem is heavily emphasized, while the fact that it is located within the Palestinian village al-Khader, on its lands, is ignored. This invasive act is especially severe seeing as the respondents have also been collecting entrance fees, without being certified to do so.”
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