A nature reserve gives a discount to residents of Jewish settlements, but not to the Palestinian neighbors.
By Zafrir Rinat | Aug. 1, 2013

With its desert landscape and cool springs, the Nahal Prat ‏(Wadi Kelt‏) reserve, northeast of Jerusalem, attracts many hikers. Admission to one of the main sites in the reserve, Ein Prat, costs money – but the price is not the same for all. Residents of the Mateh Binyamin settlements pay half the regular price. Palestinian residents of the same area pay the full price, as do visitors from other areas, Jewish or Arab.

Among those charged the full price are residents of the Palestinian village Anata, right near the reserve. The fact that some of the village’s land is located inside the reserve and that the villagers were living here long before the Mateh Binyamin residents doesn’t earn them any break on the entrance fee. The Mateh Binyamin settlements are spread out over a wide area, some of them not even close to the reserve. And the Palestinians have fewer options for excursions due to restrictions on their movement as well as their economic situation.

“It’s a ludicrous bit of geographic manipulation that makes the residents of the Mevo Horon settlement near Latrun, part of this entity called Mateh Binyamin that’s dotted with holes like Swiss cheese, but excludes the residents of Anata, when Wadi Kelt is less than a kilometer from their village,” says Dror Etkes, who monitors the settlements and has recently studied land policy in the area. “This is one expression of the racist hubris that is typical of Israel’s policy in the West Bank.”

The reserve is managed by the Nature and Parks Authority, which decided to charge an entrance fee to Ein Prat as part of an effort to better maintain the reserve and find sources of funding for this, now that the site has come to attract 120,000 visitors a year. For similar reasons, the authority is considering charging a fee for entry to another site in the reserve, Ein Mabua.

The Authority explains that the Mateh Binyamin residents pay half the entry fee because the regional council also invests heavily in the site. The authority also points out that a similar payment policy is used in other local councils and authorities in Israel. The authority did not provide an answer as to why the Palestinians who live close to the reserve do not get a similar break on the entry fee.

The Civil Administration responded as follows: “The discount for residents of the Mateh Binyamin regional council on entry to the nature reserve was granted in the past due to the council’s contribution to the development and preservation of the site. The issue of discounts being given to various population groups at the entrance to nature reserves is currently being examined. Some of the lands of Anata are located within the nature reserve. The landowners are entitled to continue working the lands that were being cultivated before the area was declared a nature reserve, in a way that does not harm the natural values.”

Nature conservation groups also do not view the Palestinians as having equal standing or interest in regard to Nahal Prat. Six months ago, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel published a policy paper for management of the reserve. It advocates inviting the public to contribute ideas about how to manage the area, but the list of relevant nearby communities does not include a single Palestinian locale.