Wednesday, July 3, 2013

How Green Was Their Valley 3

"Meron Benvenisti has put the number of villages in the region at 60 but this includes semi-permanent bedouin encampments built from rushes or mud bricks.* Walid Khalidi has documented how they 'left' and what happened to their 'settlements'. Village after village was depopulated and destroyed before being built over by Zionist settlements.** All that remained after the Zionist assault through the Huleh valley was one Bedouin settlement,*** with the Zionist settlers now free to take the land left behind and harvest the crops planted by those they had expelled. [*Sacred Landscapes: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948, 2000, p 127;**All That Remains: The Palestinian Villages Occupied & Depopulated by Israel in 1948, 1992, pp 428-509; ***ibid, p 131]

"With the Palestinians gone and the state of Israel established over their heads and on their land their were no barriers to the exploitation of the Huleh valley. Beginning in 1951 it was subjected to 'redevelopment' that amounted to ecological vandalism on a grand scale by blundering, land-hungry settler administrators. The wetlands were drained and turned into arable land, shrinking the lake to perhaps one tenth of its original size. At the time the drainage and irrigation works were seen as a brilliant engineering achievement, of which the most significant benefits were regarded as the creation of thousands of dunums of cultivable land and the eradication of malaria. Yet it was not long before disappointment and an understanding of the damage that had been done set in. As summarized by Zohary and Hambright, while the drained peat soil proved suitable for agriculture, 'the anticipated exceptional yields were never obtained.' (Zohary & Hambright)

"Furthermore, 'as the level of groundwater fell, air penetrated into the dried peat. The weathered peat soils turned into infertile black dust. Strong winds sweeping the valley produced dust storms that caused major damage to agricultural crops. Consequently, the ground surface subsided by up to 3 meters in some regions and inundation of these areas during winter rains restricted cultivation in many areas. An indirect problem associated with the drying of the soils was the proliferation of field mice populations which soared and wreaked havoc on agricultural crops in the valley. Over time, farmers abandoned more and more of the valley where cultivation was no longer profitable, thereby further enhancing the rate at which these soils deteriorated.'

"By 1958, this was the state of the valley described in such glowing terms by Dr Thomson only a century before. A unique wetlands region which had been part of the landscape for thousands of years had been mostly destroyed within the space of 9. Elsewhere in Palestine olive groves, pomegranates and citrus orchards were uprooted as part of a dual process of settlement building and the removal from the land of all traces and symbols of the Palestinian presence. The olive and pomegranate were preeminent symbols of the 'primitive' Palestinian village and so had to go along with the houses.* Through the vindictive destruction of olive trees by settlers on the West Bank this process continues to the present day. [*Benvenisti, p 216]

"Along with the shrinking of Lake Huleh and the drying of the land came the destruction of flora and fauna. The lake had been a rich source of aquatic life, with researchers listing '260 species of insects, 95 crustaceans, 30 snails and clams, 21 fishes, 7 amphibians and reptiles, 131 birds and 3 mammals.'* After the drainage '119 animal species were lost to the region of which 37 were totally lost from Israel [sic]. Similarly, many freshwater plant species became extinct and many of the massive flocks of migratory birds that used to land in the valley found alternative feeding sites on their routes between Europe and Asia.' Only in the 1980s was it decided to take steps to repair the damage, by flooding part of the valley in the hope of renewing something of the original biodiversity but only 'a small fragment of an extinct ecosystem has been revived.' The painted frog with its mottled back and belly speckled with white spots belongs to an amphibian family thought to have died out 10,000 years ago until spotted in the Huleh wetlands in the 1940s. This 'living fossil' was believed to have been one of the species that were 'lost' when the wetlands were drained in the 1950s but 2 years ago a ranger saw one and now it is thought that there is a colony of hundreds. [*ibid]

"The Huleh ecosystem did not die of natural causes. It did not become 'extinct' because of sudden climate change or any of the other natural catastrophes that have killed off species and reshaped the surface of the planet for millenia. It was another casualty of the Nakba. The Zionist colons had none of the skills that come with husbanding the land generation after generation over countless centuries. They had to learn and their vandalism in the Huleh valley was born of their ignorance and their haste to settle and cover all traces of where the people they drove out had lived, prayed, studied and farmed and where their ancestors were buried.

"Where the painted frog went as the Huleh wetlands were drained only the frog knows. Most probably, it burrowed deeper into what remained of the mud and rushes until it was safe to come out, a period of time that spanned more than 50 years. The parallel with the people is unmistakable: driven towards extinction as a people, they have survived and are waiting for the time when they also will be able to return."

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