Vineyards and maqams are imprisoned in Bitunya ridge

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Nurit and Irit (report and photos)

The planned meeting in Bitunya’s municipality (almost 20,000 residents) was attended by: five land-owning farmers, the mayor, the person in charge of culture and archeology and the spokesman for the municipality. Also Atty. Farah Baiadsi from NOAS, the Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers, who coordinated the meeting, Atty. Neta Amar Schiff, Dror Etkes from Kerem Navot as well as Nurit and I.

The discussion, in Arabic with translation, covered two topics: the accessibility of the agricultural lands imprisoned in the ridge to their Palestinian owners and the accessibility and renovation of the two imprisoned maqams.

The mayor had expressed, even before the meeting, his willingness in principle - to petition on both issues through Adv. Neta Amar Schiff and with the funding of the Norwegians. Hence the theme of the meeting was the expression of different positions of the participants and the refinement of the situation, concerns and expectations of and about the future move - if and when it materializes.

The farmers expressed a desire for both maqams, Sheikh Zeitun and Umm A-Sheikh (pp. 37-39 in our review) to be rehabilitated, and spoke about their enjoyment of them as children. The person in charge of culture, Nail Jalal, expressed the concern that if the maqams were renovated, those who would use them at the end of the day would be the settlers. On the other hand, I said that if they were not renovated, they would become a heap of ruins. Indeed, it is a great dilemma and we have no power to guarantee or prevent the realization of his fear. The precedents within the Green Line do not bode well. The entire ridge in Area C.

In the Bitunya Ridge, the agricultural areas are enclosed by a fence with a double gate that opens for a maximum of 10 days a year - and areas inaccessible to the Palestinians, altogether encompassing, according to Dror's estimates, about 15,000 dunams (3,700 acres). Palestinians were told the gate was an agricultural gate but in fact, the lands were classified as a military training area. And even more so in fact, this is a planned nature reserve (and according to the site data an archeological national park eventually). Fruit-laden trees stand unreachable like the giant and abundant apricot tree whose owner has not been able to harvest for many years. It was said that 95% of landowners do not live here anymore.

Twice a year, said the farmers, about 200 Jewish cars go on tours of the area's antiquity sites. The importance of the site to the Jews can be learned from Dr. Zeev Vilnai:  This was Joshua Ben-Nun's arena where he acted and conquered the land. There was also King Saul and here the Maccabees fought. The strategic point where Sheikh Zeitun lies is mentioned in all battles including the Israeli conquest in 1967 - and it sits between the Beith Horon settlement and Bituniya and the villages Beit Beit Ur El Fouka and Beit Ur A-Tahta.

The two Muslim maqams on Bitunya ridge are not recognized by the Religious HQ or the Archeology HQ, so apparently, their neglect has no father or mother, but in fact, their neglect and prevention of Palestinian access to them is a blatant violation of the occupied rights - according to the Geneva Convention. (See pg. 83-90 in a review found on the checkpoint website, which was recently published in Hebrew following its publication in Arabic).

Every petition is perceived by the occupation regime as a kind of uprising against the established rule and therefore the very filing of a petition can provoke the representatives of the occupation to take revenge - to harm the petitioner with setbacks. This painful issue was also discussed at the meeting.

Following forward from this stage the two lawyers will examine how to proceed with the double petition.