For decades, Jews and Palestinians alike would wander through the abandoned village of al-Walaja, encountering ghosts of the past, and facing the intimacy of a stranger’s home.
By Natasha Dudinski
A spring walk in Nahal Refaim. Blue sky, cheerful sun, red anemones, white almond trees, and the rocky green Jerusalem hills. It is the most beautiful part of the year, filled with hopes for something new; groups of weekend hikers dot the valley’s trails. I follow my own unbeaten path, zigzagging between the present and the past.
The three stone houses along the road are there regardless of the season. They were once an organic part of the landscape, built by people who lived here for centuries planting trees, growing vegetables, raising goats and sheep, and maintaining an ancient irrigation system based on local springs and agricultural terraces. They probably did many other things which I know nothing about.
By the time I saw these houses for the first time many years ago, their inhabitants were long gone. The overgrown wild vegetation surrounding them still held their memories. I did not yet understand the language of these memories, but I could feel them. The air was thick with them. There were no bars over the windows yet, allowing any curious passerby to enter. One could touch the inner walls and hear the voices and whispers, laughs and cries left behind in the nooks and crannies of the old house. I wanted to know to whom they belonged, why did they leave, where did they go, and would they ever come back?
Later my friend Sheerin told me her and her family’s stories about her village of al-Walaja and about the springs of Ein el Hanniya, Ein Balad and Ein Lavan. I have kept coming back to this valley ever since — it was love at first sight, which hasn’t disappeared over the past 20 years. I now have my own memories of the place, too.
A few years ago, the concrete separation wall began to snake its way through the valley, cutting al-Walaja off from most of its lands, including water springs and ancient agricultural terraces. And then, someone in Israel’s corridors of power came up with a brilliant idea: to turn all this breath-taking beauty into a national park.
First came the fence. Then the ancient nymphaeum at Ein al-Hanniya was cleaned of graffiti and other patina. A centuries-old irrigation system was excavated and its inner workings...Read More